Dr Heather Skirton

Dr Heather Skirton

Visiting Specialist

School of Nursing and Midwifery (Faculty of Health and Human Sciences)


As Professor in Applied Health Genetics, my primary focus is research. I am currently leading the Gen-Equip project, funded via the Erasmusplus programme, to develop education in genetics for primary care practitioners across Europe. My input into learning and teaching activities is connected mainly with genetics, research methods and ethics. I am also active in improving professional competence in genetic healthcare in Europe and am the inaugural Chair of the European Board of Medical Genetics.


PhD in Health Psychology, University of Exeter, 2000.

MSc in Health Care, Professional Education, University of Exeter, 1996.

Diploma of Psychological Counselling, 1994.

PG Certificate in Health and Social Care Education, 2011.  

Professional qualifications:

Registered Genetic Counsellor, 2003

Qualified Midwife, 1980

Registered General Nurse, 1974.


I have been involved in clinical healthcare since 1971. My most recent clinical post was as Nurse Consultant in Genetics from 2000-2004. From 2000-2004 I was co-director of the MSC in genetic counselling at the University of Wales. I joined the University of Plymouth in 2004.  

Professional membership

1. European Board of Medical Genetics (inaugural Chair 2012- )

2. European Society for Human Genetics (Member of the Board)  
3. International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG) (President 2005/06) 

4. British Society for Genetic Medicine  5. Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors  

6. Royal College of Nursing


Roles on external bodies

1. European Board of Mmedical Genetics, Inaugural Chair (2012- )

2. European Society for Human Genetics, Board member (2010- )
Co-chair of the European Genetic Nurses and Counsellors Ad Hoc Accreditation Committee (2007- 2012) 
Member of the Education Committee (2004-2009).
3.  International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG) 
Co-Chair Conference Abstract Committee (2010- 2011)
President  (2005/06)
Chair of the Global Connections Committee (2001-2004).
Chair of the Awards and By-Laws Committees (2006/07)
Chair of the Nominations committee (2007/08).
Chair of the  2007 Conference Committee.

4. Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors (a constituent group of the British Society for Human Genetics) Chairman (1996-2000).

5. Member of the UK Genetic Counsellor Registration Board (2006-2012)

6, Genetic Counsellor Training Panel  Member (2005- 2012)

7. British Society for Human Genetics, Council Member (1997 - 2005).

8. UK Joint Committee on Medical Genetics, Chair of the Committee (2003-2006).





Teaching interests

Health genetics

Genetic counselling

Counselling skills

Healthcare ethics

Research methods, particularly qualitative.

Staff serving as external examiners

External examiner

13 PhD candidates: nine as External Examiner, four as internal examiner.
1 MPhil candidate (external)

External examiner for the MSc in Genetic Counselling, Cardiff University (2007-2010)  

Research interests

Quality of genetic counselling, particularly related to genetic testing.

Development of competence in genetics by health professionals.

Education in genetics for health professionals. 

Development of learning materials and training for genetics education of health professionals. 

Ethical issues and consent for non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT).
Information needs of parents considering antenatal screening and the professionals offering that screening.  

Healthcare provision for people affected by genetic conditions and their families.

Other research


  • I  was keynote speaker at the 30th anniversary international congress of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (2016).


  • In 2015 I was awarded the Education Award by the European Society of Human Genetics.  This is awarded every three years for an excellent contribution to international genetics education.
  • In 2015 I was invited as guest speaker to the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the MSc in Genetic Counselling programme in Marseilles, France.


  • In 2015 I was asked to give evidence to the Medical Genetics Board of Belgium, which directly advises the Belgian government on matters relating to clinical genetics.

  • In 2014 I was the guest speaker at the National Rare Diseases Day symposium in Pecs, Hungary.


  • In 2012 I was invited by the European Society of Human Genetics to be the first Chair of the European Board of Medical Genetics.  This Board oversees the professional accreditation of medical specialists in genetics, clinical scientists and genetic nurses and counsellors.  

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

PhD - 8 succesful completions
MSc - 21 succesful supervisees

Grants & contracts

Recent grant-funded projects


Gen-Equip:  Genetics education for primary care professionals. EU Erasmusplus project 2014-2017. 

RAPID: Reliable and accurate prenatal diagnosis study.  Funded by NIHR. 

CHIP-ME-  Citizen’s Health through public-private Initiatives: Public health, Market and Ethical perspectives.A European COST project. 

Developing Medical Genetics Education through Curriculum Reforms and Establishment of Postgraduate Training Programs (MedGenCRE): a European TEMPUS project.  


EuroGentest2: EU &th Framework funded project to standardise and harmonise genetic testing in Europe.  Co-applicant and Work Package 7 leader.  http://www.eurogentest.org/

EuroGentest: EU 6th Framework funded project to standardise and harmonise genetic testing in Europe.  Part of project team for Unit 6 - Education.  http://www.eurogentest.org/

Eurogene: EC funded project to develop new techniques in provision of electronic educational materials on genetics.  http://www.eurogene.eu/

Midwives in Teaching study (MINT) - funded by NMC.

The use of games for teaching in the health professions.  Funded by Research Informed Teaching initiative.

Promoting informed choice: provision of appropriate information and support for parents making decisions about antenatal screening for fetal abnormality.  Jointly with Dr Owen Barr, University of Ulster.  Funded by Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

HD Carer Survey
.  Funded by the University of Iowa.

Telling Stories:Understanding Real-Life Genetics.  Joint project with University of Glamorgan, funded by Wellcome Trust. People Award to establish a website to educate professionals, based on real stories  form families affected by genetic conditions. http://www.geneticseducation.nhs.uk/tellingstories/

Genetics: Screening, Choice and Rights
Literature review on antenatal screening choices, jointly with Dr Owen Barr, University of Ulster.  Funded by the Foundation for People with Learning Disability. 







Additional information


 Skirton H, Patch C. (2009) Genetics for the Health Sciences – a handbook for clinical practice. Oxford, Scion Publishing.

Greco K, Prows CA, Skirton H, Williams J, Jones S, Middelton L, Lewis J, Bickford C, Humes YD, Seiler M, Carson-Smith M. (2006) Genetics/Genomics Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice  International Society of Nurses in Genetics and American Nurses Association.  ISBN- 13: 978-1-55810-234-7.

Skirton H, Patch C and Williams, JK (2005) Applied Genetics In Healthcare – a handbook for specialists. Abingdon, Taylor and Francis.


Skirton H and Patch C (2002) Genetics for healthcare professionals – a lifestage approach. Bios Scientific Publishers, Oxford.


Book chapters

Williams JK and Skirton H (2005) Genomics, family nursing and families across the lifespan. Chapter 18 in Family Health Care nursing: Theory, Practice and Research. Edited by S Hansen, V Gedaly-Duff and J R Kaakinen. F.A. Davis Company.


Skirton H and Patch C (2005) Genetics. Chapter 6.4 in Physiology for Nursing Practice. Hinchcliff, Montague, Herbert and Watson. Third edition. Bailliere Tindall, London.


Skirton H (2003) Outcomes of genetic counselling. Chapter in Encyclopaedia of the Human Genome, edited by David Cooper, Nature publishing Group, London.


Skirton H (2003) Development of the profession of genetic counselling in Europe. Chapter in Encyclopaedia of the Human Genome, edited by David Cooper, Nature publishing Group, London.


Skirton H (1998) Telling the children Chapter 9 in The Genetic Testing of Children, edited by Angus Clarke Bios Scientific Publishers, Oxford.


I have research links with colleagues at the:

College of Nursing, University of Iowa, USA
Yamaguchi University, Japan
Iwate Prefectural University, Japan
University of Bologna, Italy
University of Porto, Portugal
St Luke's College of Nursing, Tokyo, Japan
Iwate Prefectural University, Japan
University of Iceland
University College, London.  

I have research links throughout Europe through my involvement in the EuroGentest2 project. v