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 

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.   

Key Words: 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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