Joan H. Marks, who was a pioneer in genetic counseling, the practice of helping patients understand their risk of an inherited medical condition, and who developed it into a full-blown profession, died on Sept. 14 at her home in Manhattan. She was 91.
Her son Dr. Andrew Marks said the cause was heart failure.
Ms. Marks was the director of the graduate program in genetic counseling at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., for 26 years. When she started, in 1972, the program, the first in the nation to educate genetic counselors, was three years old.
During her tenure, she developed it into the largest such program in the country, which it remains, and helped to establish a new health care field. Today there are thousands of certified genetic counselors in the United States — professionals trained in both genetics and counseling who help patients and their families confront a variety of inherited conditions.
But when Ms. Marks began, doctors were skeptical that anyone without a medical degree could understand the intricacies of genetics. So the role of talking with patients and their families about inherited disorders and potential birth defects was often left to nurses and others.