Genetic Competencies Essential for Health Care Professionals in Primary Care


  • Janet L. Engstrom CNM, PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Janet L. Engstrom, CNM, APN, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Program Director of the Nurse-Midwifery and Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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  • Marlene G. S. Sefton CNP, PhD,

    1. Marlene G. S. Sefton, CNP, APN, PhD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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  • Jolie Kim Matheson MS, CGC,

    1. Jolie Kim Matheson, MS, CGC, is a Genetic Counselor at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
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  • Kristine M. Healy MPH, PA-C

    1. Kristine M. Healy, MPH, PA-C, is an Assistant Professor in the Physician Assistant Program, in the College of Health Sciences, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, in the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, of Midwestern University, located in Downers Grove, IL.
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Janet L. Engstrom, CNM, PhD, University of Illinois Chicago, Maternal-Child Nursing (m/c 802), 845 S. Damen, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail:


The completion of the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 signaled the onset of the genomic era in health care. The knowledge gleaned from the Human Genome Project has led to the understanding that every health problem has a genetic component and that clinicians should include the application of genetic information in all aspects of health care. This article describes the genetic competencies essential for all health care professionals in primary care. Health care professionals should augment their current practice by obtaining a multigenerational genetic family history for each patient, assessing all patients for potentially heritable conditions, providing referrals to genetic health professionals as needed, offering genetic testing when indicated, and considering an individual's genetic makeup in the selection of medications and treatments for that person. Finally, all health care professionals ought to be prepared to address the complex personal, cultural, theological, ethical, legal, and social issues associated with genetic testing and other genetic issues commonly encountered in clinical practice.