Background Over the past two decades non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have steadily increased as a cause of worldwide disability and mortality with a concomitant decrease in disease burden from communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional conditions. Congenital anomalies, the most common NCD affecting children, have recently become the fifth leading cause of under-five mortality worldwide, ahead of other conditions such as malaria, neonatal sepsis and malnutrition. Genetic counseling has been shown to be an effective method to decrease the impact of congenital anomalies and genetic conditions but is absent in almost all sub-Saharan Africa countries. To address this need for counseling services we designed and implemented the first broad-based genetic counseling curriculum in Ethiopia, launching it at St. Paul's Millennium Medical College (SPHMMC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Methods The curriculum, created by Michigan Medicine and SPHMMC specialists, consisted of medical knowledge and genetic counseling content and was delivered to two cohorts of nurses. Curriculum evaluation consisted of satisfaction surveys and pre- and post-assessments covering medical knowledge and genetic counseling content. Following Cohort 1 training, the curriculum was modified to increase the medical knowledge material and decrease Western genetic counseling principles material. Results Both cohorts reported high levels of satisfaction but felt the workshop was too short. No significant improvements in assessment scores were seen for Cohort 1 in terms of total scores and medical knowledge and genetic counseling-specific questions. Following curriculum modification, improvements were seen in Cohort 2 with an increase in total assessment scores from 63% to 73% (p = 0.043), with medical knowledge-specific questions increasing from 57% to 79% (p = 0.01) with no significant change in genetic counseling-specific scores. Multiple logistic, financial, cultural and systems-specific barriers were identified with recommendations for their consideration presented. Conclusion Genetics medical knowledge of Ethiopian nurses increased significantly following curriculum delivery though difficulty was encountered with Western genetic counseling material.