Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects.
What they do
Genetic counselors provide information and support to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.
Genetic counselors typically do the following:
- Interview patients to get comprehensive individual family and medical histories
- Evaluate genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific genetic disorders
- Write detailed consultation reports to provide information on complex genetic concepts for patients or referring physicians
- Discuss testing options and the associated risks, benefits, and limitations with patients, families, and other healthcare providers
- Counsel patients and family members by providing information, education, or reassurance regarding genetic risks and inherited conditions
- Participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in genetics and genomics
Genetic counselors identify specific genetic disorders or risks through the study of genetics. A genetic disorder or syndrome is inherited. For parents who are expecting children, counselors use genetics to predict whether a baby is likely to have hereditary disorders, such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, among others. Genetic counselors also assess the risk for an adult to develop diseases with a genetic component, such as certain forms of cancer.
Genetic counselors work with families, patients, and other medical professionals.
How to become a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and board certification.
Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics.
Coursework in genetic counseling includes public health, epidemiology, psychology, and developmental biology. Classes emphasize genetics, public health, and patient empathy.
Students also must complete clinical rotations, during which they work directly with patients and clients. Clinical rotations provide supervised experience for students, allowing them to work in different work environments, such as prenatal diagnostic centers, pediatric hospitals, or cancer centers.
The Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling accredits master's degree programs.
The American Board of Genetic Counseling provides certification for genetic counselors. To become certified, a student must complete an accredited master’s degree program and pass an exam. Counselors must complete continuing education courses to maintain their board certification.
About half of the states require genetic counselors to be licensed and other states have pending legislation for licensure. Certification is typically needed to get a license. For specific licensing requirements, contact the state’s medical board.
Employers typically require or prefer prospective genetic counselors to be certified, even if the state does not require it.
The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $81,880 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $61,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,750.
Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 21 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 600 new jobs over the 10-year period.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Genetic Counselor; Clinical Coordinator, Pediatric Genetics; Coordinator of Genetic Services; Genetic Counselor; Hereditary Cancer Program Coordinator; Medical Science Liaison; Prenatal and Pediatric Genetic Counselor; Reproductive Genetic Counseling Coordinator; Senior Genetic Counselor; Staff Genetic Counselor, Genomic Medicine Genetic Counselors, Neurogenetic Counselor
School Psychologist, Psychology Teacher-Postsecondary, Family and General Practitioner, Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse, Naturopathic Physician
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Board of Genetic Counseling - This non-profit organization’s mission is to protect the public by setting certification standards and providing leadership to promote the value of certified genetic counselors.
- National Society of Genetic Counselors - NSGC promotes the professional interests of genetic counselors and provides a network for professional communications. Access to continuing education opportunities, professional resources, advocacy and the discussion of all issues relevant to human genetics and the genetic counseling profession are an integral part of belonging to the NSGC.
- Society for Birth Defects Research & Prevention - This organization is the premier source for cutting-edge research and authoritative information related to birth defects and other disorders of developmental origin.
- The American Society of Human Genetics - This organization’s mission is to advance human genetics and genomics in science, health, and society through excellence in research, education, and advocacy. Students with an interest in this field should check out the K-12 Education Programs
Magazines and Publications
- Genome Magazine
- NSGC Journal of Genetic Counseling
- Birth Defects Research Journal (SBDRP)
- Genes and Development Journal
- Developmental Biology Journal
- American Journal of Human Genetics
Genetic counselors have an ability to see into the future… the future of our health, that is. Genetic counselors analyze genetic information to assess a patient’s risk for a variety of conditions, offering helpful information and advice to patients and other healthcare professionals. Genetic counselors often divide their time between their lab and an office where they meet with patients. They write detailed reports and treatment plans that simplify genetic concepts and explain the pros and cons of different testing options. These professionals have frequent contact with their patients, from the initial interview for medical history, to providing resources, treatment options, and reassurance. They work in a variety of settings, including university medical centers, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and diagnostic labs. Entering this field requires a master’s degree and a professional certification in genetic counseling. Some states require a license. Staying up to date with current scientific literature is a must. At the end of the day, genetic counselors must be compassionate in delivering sensitive findings, think critically about the risks of conditions and treatments for their patients, and clearly explain the health choices – which are ultimately up to the patient to make.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOne Stop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org