The Educational Challenge
Precision medicine will fundamentally change how health care is practiced. Of course, we have a long way to go. For most practitioners today, their knowledge of the human genome was established many years ago. However, new therapies and diagnostic methods are pouring in on a daily basis. So, how do we make sure that the current and future health care workforce understands the complexities and intricate details of this field?
A starting point is a better understanding of how to use an individual’s genomic information to determine targeted treatment options, tailored to the individual patient. This requires:
- a baseline knowledge of genomics
- an understanding of the clinical applications of genomic medicine
- the capability to evaluate the clinical validity of new tests
- a comprehension of the ethical and social issues associated with this type of approach
In more detail, practitioners need to understand at the very minimum:
- The structure of the human genome and different types of genetic variations
- Genetic screening and diagnosis: Various screening and filtering methods for Mendelian diseases
- The use of next-generation sequencing for diagnostic purposes
- Methods used in patient populations to uncover associations between genome variation and common, rare and complex diseases
- Pharmacogenomic testing for drug selection, dosing and predicting adverse effects of drugs
- Tumor profiling for targeting cancer treatment and the use of blood-based gene expression profiles in cancer prognosis
So, why is this a big deal?
According to the CDC, over 18 million people work in the US health care system. The Bureau of Labor Statics determined in its 2014 report that this workforce splits up in the following groups:
- Physicians and Surgeons, 8%
- Pharmacists, 4%
- Physician Assistants, 1%
- Registered Nurses and Advanced Practice Nurses, 37%
- Technicians and Technologies, 25%
- Other, 25%
Conservatively, if only physicians, surgeons and pharmacists are being retrained, we are essentially talking about a group of 2.1M people that need to be caught up. This is in addition to the approximately 20K medical students and 15K pharmacy students who start their education each year.
We at Golden Helix are actively involved in training programs for the next generation of health care professionals. I have blogged about this for some time. We also had our clients talking about their progress in this field in our webinar series. We will continue to work with universities and colleges to increase awareness and knowledge in the field of precision medicine. University educators are welcome to reach out to me personally to discuss their specific program.