Journal of Professional Nursing

Genetics And Nursing: Preparing For Future Health Care Development   

M. J. (Nick) Nicol, RGN, RPN, BSc(Hons), PhD, MRSNZ, Senior Lecturer, School of Health Science, Massey University, Albany Campus, Auckland 

Reference:  Nicol, M. J. (2003). Genetics and nursing: Preparing for future health care developments. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 19(2), 27-40


Incorporation of molecular and clinical genetics into routine health care is likely to be one of the most important issues that nurses will face in the third millennium.  Discoveries associated with the human genome project are already having a major influence on health care. Increasingly nurses will be exposed to this new genetic knowledge and challenged to integrate it into their clinical practice in order to ensure that patients and families receive the best health care available. In order  for them to fully participate in the health care environment that will develop as a  result of these significant advances in the understanding of the human genome,  nurses will need to be educated in the fundamental principles of molecular genetics  and the clinically relevant areas of genetics. The impact of the ‘new genetic  knowledge’ on medicine, health care and society in general will be of such significance  that if genetics is not given greater emphasis in nurse education and clinical practice,  then almost certainly genetics-related health care will be taken up by other health  professionals.   

Nursing education, genetics

Genetics is a term heard frequently today in a wide variety of settings, yet interpretation and application of the word is not always consistent. The term can be contentious and is often a catalyst for vociferous debate.  Discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson ultimately led to the establishment of the discipline of molecular genetics. Today, 50 years later, the field of molecular genetics ignites debate and polarises both academia and the general public. As molecular biologists and geneticists learn more about genes and their function so more associated legal, ethical and social issues arise.  Ownership of genetic information (and in fact of the genes themselves) and the ethics of stem cell manipulation are just two issues being debated in the public arena. Other concerns prompting debate include genetically modified food products, ‘Dolly’ the cloned sheep and the use of genetically modified organisms for the production of medicines. One of the first applications of molecular genetics was in the area of health care. During the 1970s Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen pioneered the technique of recombinant DNA technology (Cohen, Chang, Boyer & Helling, 1973; Morrow, Cohen, Chang, Boyer, Goodman & Helling, 1974). continued

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