Genetic counselors work with patients who carry or are at risk of carrying genetic disorders, helping them understand the nature of their illnesses and how best to manage them. They take complex scientific information and present it in a manner easily understood, allowing their patients to make informed decisions regarding their own health. Genetic counselors may also serve as patient advocates, referring individuals to support services in matters as necessary.
In order to advise patients regarding healthcare issues, genetic counselors need to have a solid understanding of genetics in addition to being able to research an individual's family medical history and other relevant aspects of a patient's lifestyle.
Educating the public and fellow healthcare professionals is another part of being a genetic counselor. By promoting awareness and understanding, a counselor can help individuals dealing with genetic disorders.
As modern medicine focuses more on genetic science, the demand for individuals who can assess and communicate related health issues will increase significantly. Genetic counselors are in demand now more than ever.
Working Conditions & Context
Genetic counselors spend most of their time meeting with patients face-to-face, so they need excellent communication skills. It is important to be able to explain complex scientific information in a manner understood by everyday people. And as their patients come to terms with their genetic disorders, genetic counselors must be able to help them cope with the reality of their situations.
Genetic counselors work in a variety of primary practice areas, including prenatal, pediatric, and adult. Many work with other healthcare professionals. Most work is conducted in person, though being able to communicate effectively by telephone and email is very important as well.
A typical Salary Range for this career is $35,620 - $101,030 annually.
The Median Income for this career is about $54,832 annually.
Students interested in a career in genetic counseling can prepare by taking general courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, and physics. Good writing and other communication skills are essential.
Aspiring genetic counselors should choose a major directly related to health science. Students should consider internships and research opportunities in their chosen field.
Genetic counselors will typically have a Master's Degree from a graduate program specifically accredited to prepare candidates for genetic counseling. Training will be required, including specialized coursework and hands-on, supervised clinical experiences.
Certification & Licensing:
The American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) recognizes programs in the United States and Canada that demonstrate that their graduates have achieved the knowledge and skills necessary to provide competent genetic counseling services.
Certification involves verification of specialized training, documentation of clinical experiences, and successfully passing both a general genetics and a genetic counseling examination.
The National Society of Genetic Counselors
Human Genome Project Information
The American Society of Human Genetics
The Genetic Alliance
The American Board of Genetic Counseling
Interview with Nancy Kramer, M.S., board certified genetic counselor
** More than a minimum degree may be required for some careers.