Meet Carolyn Farrell, PhD, MS ‘84, BS ‘71: Genetic Counseling Pioneer and UB Alumni Association Board Member

Carolyn Farrell headshot.

Published September 22, 2021

Carolyn Farrell, PhD, MS ‘84, BS ‘71, knew she wanted to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling. But there were only six such programs across the U.S. — with the closest in the New York City area. Given her life in Buffalo with three young children, she knew none of those programs were feasible.

So she created one for herself. 

Farrell had previously earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UB in 1971, so she chose to return to the school for her graduate degree.

“I approached and met with the chair of UB's Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Program,” Farrell explains. “I shared my vision and intent and pitched an adaption and expansion of that program to include content that was consistent with a master’s genetics counseling program. Not only was it well received, but I secured the enthusiastic approval and support of both the chair and the dean.”

Farrell then met with the dean and registrar of UB’s Medical School, now the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to petition and secure unique approval to take their medical genetics and advanced medical genetics courses. She also took embryology, biochemical and molecular genetics and other relevant courses through different departments at UB. 

“UB School of Nursing continued enthusiastic support through my master’s program,” she says. “I cannot say enough about the school. Deans and faculty provided top-notch courses and education, fostered critical thinking skills, and promoted creativity and support for innovative thinking, research and clinical applications.”

Farrell graduated with her master’s degree in 1984 and later went on to complete a PhD in healthcare genetics at Clemson University in 2014. Her research focus was direct-to-consumer genetic testing and individual perception of health risk.

A trailblazing genetics career

"I cannot say enough about the [School of Nursing]. Deans and faculty provided top-notch courses and education, fostered critical thinking skills, and promoted creativity and support for innovative thinking, research and clinical applications.”
Carolyn Farrell, MS ‘84, BS ‘71

Farrell’s career in genetics spans pediatric and adult disorders, including over 15 years as director of the Clinical Genetics Service at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. She has collaborated with cancer specialists, geneticists, scientists, and health care providers while leading a team of genetic counselors in providing risk assessment, counseling, and genetic testing for persons and families at known or suspected risk of cancer genetic syndromes. Farrell has been published in and has presented on genetics topics for more than 25 years and is well known for her work in this area.

Today, she serves as president and founder of Professional Genetic Interactions, providing genetic and genome services that include consulting, risk assessment, testing, training, and mentoring on related health care practice, legal, ethical and policy issues.

She has also served as an independent consultant for UB’s Genomics, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence since 2017, where she focuses on examining feasibility, providing genetics/genomics clinical and programmatic expertise, and developing a master’s-level, accredited genetic counseling program at UB.

Additionally, Farrell is a diplomate of the American Board of Medical Genetics, an American Board of Genetic Counseling board-certified genetic counselor, a member of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, and past president of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics.

Staying connected to her alma mater

Despite her undoubtedly busy career, Farrell has always found the time to support UB’s School of Nursing. In the 20+ years since she’s graduated, Farrell has participated in a variety of lectures, panels and other events and has worked as an adjunct faculty member in the school. 

“I value and appreciate UB,” Farrell explains. “I want to support the school's excellence and outreach, as well as promote its pursuit of outstanding, creative, respectful, inclusive and future-oriented strategic directions in education, research and public health.”

Farrell served as treasurer of the School of Nursing’s Alumni Association of Buffalo and alumni newsletter director from 1978-1980 and sat on the School of Nursing Alumni Advisory Board from 1997-1999. Given her support and dedication, she was awarded the School of Nursing’s Patricia H. Garman Award for Excellence in Service in 2004 and Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017.

In 2021, she took her involvement one step further. She was nominated for membership and accepted a position on the UB Alumni Association’s board of directors. She will be actively involved in the board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. 

“I wanted to join the board of directors because of my long-standing involvement and support of UB's commitment to excellence in education,” she says. “I’m also very proud of the dynamic role UB has demonstrated in genetics, genomics, and community health initiatives, and the current pursuit and commitment to furthering our excellence as an outstanding, nationally recognized university.

“I hope to contribute to furthering excellence in education, the student experience and promoting quality faculty,” she adds. “In particular, I want to foster opportunities and initiatives in support of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, as I'm also involved with these initiatives in my professional role in establishing a master’s genetic counseling program at UB.”

Even with her busy schedule, Farrell finds plenty of time to enjoy life.

“I love to dance, enjoy the richness of friends and family (especially my grandchildren), travel and explore, try new things, play games, do puzzles, challenge my mind, participate in sports and experience the arts,” she says. “I just love life!”

Story by Grace Gerass

Media Contact Information

Sarah Goldthrite
Director of Marketing, Communications & Alumni Engagement
School of Nursing
105 Beck Hall (South Campus)
Tel: 716-829-3209