UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 1 | Jan.
Doctors and Nurses Need to Keep Up with Genetic Training
Many now getting that information from newspapers
By Hilary Thomson
Your father and uncle both died of a heart attack and you've
gone to your doctor to find out if you're at risk.
The only problem is -- your doctor doesn't know much
more than you do.
This scenario is all too common in Canada, according to a
study done by a group of researchers led by Joan Bottorff,
a UBC professor of nursing and a UBC Distinguished University
The team looked at the education needs and roles of practicing
doctors and nurses regarding genetic testing and diseases
with a hereditary component. They polled more than 1,400 doctors
and the same number of nurses across Canada to investigate
their knowledge, involvement and confidence in providing current
and accurate genetic information on diseases such as cancer,
diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative illnesses
like Alzheimer's and Huntingdon's disease.
They found that 48 per cent of nurses and 31 per cent of
doctors lacked formal education in genetics.
"Genetics is evolving rapidly and many health practitioners
are struggling to keep up," says Bottorff. "The
need for information is becoming urgent as more genetic tests
and genetically tailored therapies become available."
The average age of the survey respondents was 46 years for
nurses and 48 years for physicians. Educated before anyone
had heard about Dolly the cloned sheep, those surveyed indicated
their main sources of genetics information were newspapers
and magazines, television, scientific journals and pamphlets
and patients with genetic disorders.
With data gained from these sources, doctors and nurses work
with patients on diet and exercise plans to reduce their risk
of inherited illness and advise them on genetic screening
and testing, family planning and other issues.
Bottorff says there's a pressing need for combined
professional education programs for doctors and nurses because
their roles in providing genetic information often overlap.
Challenges to providing such programs include reaching out
to practitioners in rural areas and keeping curricula up to
Bottorff and a group of provincial and national practitioners
and policy-makers will meet this month to strategize how to
develop continuing education courses in genetics. But the
needs of practicing doctors and nurses are not the only concern.
Genetics is not consistently integrated into nursing and medical
curricula and few nursing faculty members are qualified to
teach the subject.
"Are we preparing practitioners for the future? That's
the question," says Bottorff. Her vision for genetics
education includes basic information that can serve as a benchmark
for all practitioners, modules for nurses in advanced practice
such as cancer nursing and a separate stream of graduate nursing
education focused on genetics.