Barbara Harrison, MS, CGC is a Certified Genetic Counselor at Howard University in Washington, D.C with 24 years of experience. Barbara is an Assistant Professor teaching graduate students, medical students, and medical residents in the areas of genetics, genetic testing, genetic counseling and ethics.
She is also the Director for Community Outreach and Education for the Howard University (HU) Center for Sickle Cell Disease and provides genetic counseling services at Howard University Hospital, primarily in prenatal genetics.
Barbara pursued laboratory-based research on sickle cell disease after having a cousin pass away from sickle cell disease. She developed the need to give back to her community and did volunteer work with different sickle cell organizations, even prior to becoming a genetic counselor. According to Barbara, there continues to be a stigma towards sickle cell disease in the general community due to misinformation. Barbara explains, “Many people avoid treatment within the healthcare system or have a hard time receiving regular care. Part of the issue is that pediatric sickle cell treatment is phenomenal, but adult care has a different environment. It is important for people to understand sickle cell disease and the positive impact genetic counselors can have on education, support and more.”
Barbara’s interest in connecting with people and increasing genetics awareness led her to become a Certified Genetic Counselor. She received her Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling from the University of Pittsburgh in 1995 and received her certification in 1999 through the American Board of Genetic Counseling before joining Howard University full-time. She co-directed their former genetic counseling training program, working mostly in pediatric and prenatal genetics, and supporting sickle cell research by providing consultations for participants.
Working in genetic counseling as the Director for Community Outreach and Education for the HU Center for Sickle Cell Disease has allowed Barbara to focus on making a difference in people’s lives, particularly those in need of support. Barbara states, “Genetic counseling is rewarding. It is critical to support families to make their own informed decisions.”
The HU Center for Sickle Cell Disease has existed since 1971, providing clinical services, research and community engagement as well as education. Barbara assists with the community screening program that the Center offers free of charge and organizes events that increase genetics awareness by engaging the overall community. Barbara is confident diversity will make the field stronger as it offers a variety of perspectives, whether it is regarding ethnicity, social class or religion. She encourages people of underrepresented backgrounds to become Certified Genetic Counselors. Cultural competency is important, because in order for genetic counselors to function effectively, they must be able to develop rapport and trust with their patients, some of which will have different values and beliefs.
She shares, “Certified Genetic Counselors provide a unique wealth of knowledge and have the opportunity to support families who may need it most, offering client-centered attention and alternatives to every situation.”
Feel free to contact Barbara at bwharrison@Howard.edu to learn more about sickle cell disease and the screenings offered at Howard University.