Nurses Using Genomics and Genetics in Healthcare

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In the more than 15 years since researchers completed human genome sequencing, genomics and genetics have become integral to medical treatment by providing essential information for better patient outcomes.

As frontline providers, registered nurses (RNs) are expected to understand how genomics and genetics are interconnected with health, illness, disease treatment and treatment response. Both fields of scientific study are vital to nursing practice because they focus on personalized preventive screenings, risk reductions and targeted disease management.

Nurse working at computer

The National Human Genome Research Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said nurses at all levels must understand the impact of genomic medicine and be prepared to support the emerging clinical applications. Genomic and genetic health practices are among the core competencies expected of all nurses.

Michelle Lardner, RN, deputy chief information officer and chief of clinical informatics at the NIH, said genomics allows nurses to collect vital information that can be used to improve healthcare outcomes for generations of families.

“Genomics is a central science for nursing practice because essentially all diseases and conditions have a genetic or genomic component,” Lardner said to Healthcare IT News. “As organizations start utilizing genomics in treating patients, creating a pedigree from the family medical history becomes a skill that nurses should have.”

Today, learning about genomics, genetics and the connection to health is an essential part of earning a nursing degree. At Duquesne University, RN to BSN online students take coursework that provides a better understanding of the Human Genome Project and the impact of genetics on healthcare.

Genomics and Genetics in Health Care

The origins of genetics as a science can be traced back to the 1860s through Austrian monk Gregor Johann Mendel’s work with plant hybridization. Mendel’s foundational theories provided a greater understanding of how traits pass through generations.

More than a century later, researchers who studied amino acids and proteins uncovered the science behind DNA and gene sequencing. In 1990, the NIH collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy to launch the Human Genome Project, which was aimed at mapping human genetic material and learning about the building blocks of life. In performing the research, scientists discovered genes that cause diseases that include cancer and Alzheimer’s. Genomics has also aided in the discovery of rare genetic mutations and therapeutic treatments.

A Nurse’s Role in Genomics and Genetics

Genomics- and genetics-based medicine are changing healthcare from reactive to proactive, and nurses play a pivotal role in implementing the change, NIH researchers said. Nurses focus on health promotion and disease prevention, which is an important component of genetic and genomic healthcare practices, according to the authors of “Nurses Transforming Health Care Using Genetics and Genomics.”

“The nursing profession is a pivotal provider of quality healthcare services and is essential to closing the gap between research discoveries that are efficacious to health care and their successful adoption to optimize health,” the authors said in the study published in Nursing Outlook.

Some of the ways RNs optimize healthcare outcomes using genetics and genomics include:

  • Obtaining and assessing risk based on family history to help patients avoid adult-onset disorders
  • Encouraging carrier, prenatal and newborn genetic testing to help families uncover genetic conditions
  • Engaging in the creation of policies that promote the inclusion of genetics and genomics in healthcare
  • Suggesting drug therapies that are more aligned with the patient’s genetic makeup for more impactful drug responses, also known as pharmacogenetics
  • Promoting the need for a stronger nursing workforce that recognizes the benefits and risks of genetic and genomic information
  • Advocating for patient access to genetic and genomic health information

Competencies for Genetics and Genomics in Nursing

In 2005, the ANA was among a group of healthcare organizations that developed “The Essential Nursing Competencies and Curricula Guidelines for Genetics and Genomics,” which outlined the minimum standards of preparation for nurses to deliver competent genetic- and genomic-focused care.

The competency guidelines encourage nurses to conduct the following to incorporate genetics and genomics into daily practice:

  • Use assessments to build patient genetic profiles and document family histories to better understand genetic, genomic and environmental risk factors
  • Identify patients who could benefit from genetic testing, keeping in mind ethnic, cultural, religious, economic and sociological factors
  • Facilitate referrals to genetic or genomic specialists as needed
  • Provide education, support and care to patients seeking information

In addition, the competency guidelines state the need for educational standards for teaching genomics and genetics. The guidelines suggest adding genomics and genetics to existing coursework and developing classes specifically geared to genetics and genomics.

At Duquesne University, students enrolled in the RN to BSN online program take coursework in genetics and genomics, focusing on the impact the advances have had on patients and the healthcare field.

About Duquesne University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Program

Duquesne University’s RN-BSN courses provide opportunities for RNs to better understand the role of genetics and genomics in personalized patient care. The RN-BSN online program includes one-on-one faculty mentorships and ample opportunities to collaborate with other BSN students from around the country.

Duquesne University has been educating nurses for more than 80 years and is an expert in online education. The university introduced the first BSN program in Pennsylvania in 1937 and created the nation’s first online nursing Ph.D. program in 1997.

For more information, visit DU’s online RN-BSN program website.