Genetic Counselor Career
Discover how genetic counselors are positively impacting health care today.
Genetic counselors assist people who have genetic disorders in their family and those who are concerned about the possibility. Sometimes patients are people who are considering having children and want to know about the risk of inherited disease. There may be health conditions or known genetic disorders in the family, or they may simply want to know their health status. Genetic counselors are able to answer a lot of questions, including ones about radiation and other environmental risks.
Genetic counselors also work with people with babies whose health screenings have indicated the possibility of inherited disease or genetic mutation. These clients want to know what it all means. Genetic counselors can not only answer questions but make referrals for additional services.
Become a Genetic Counselor
Genetic Counseling Resources…
Sometimes patients are adults who are concerned about their risk of developing illnesses that run in the family, for example, breast cancer or early onset Alzheimer’s. They must decide if they want to have genetic tests and, if so, which ones. They need to weigh the benefits of knowing (lifestyle changes, life planning) with the emotional costs. Patients who are considering genetic testing generally have a lot of concerns. They may wonder, for example, whether knowing their status will affect their ability to get insurance. Genetic counselors act as liaisons between medical professionals and concerned patients.
While most genetic counselors work at health care facilities, a number of settings are possible. Some genetic counselors work for laboratories or biotech companies. Some work as policy advocates or study coordinators.
Education requirements for genetic counselors
The master’s degree has become the standard for the profession. Genetic counselors may have undergraduate degrees in any of a number of fields. Some programs require students to have a bachelor’s in biological or social sciences; others leave the major open, but list various program prerequisites.
Prospective genetic counselors should enroll in a master’s program that has been accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. The ABG site list 31 US programs, most with full accreditation. (Newer programs have provisionary status.)
Typical coursework includes prenatal diagnosis, cytogenetics, cancer genetics, and patient counseling. Students also explore the relationship between genomics and environmental factors. Clinical experience is integral to the program.
Genetic Counselor Licensing and Certification
An increasing number of states license genetic counselors. The National Society of Genetic Counselors lists eleven that currently regulate the profession. Additional states have pending or proposed legislation.
Professionals may also choose voluntary certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Candidates must have their credentials approved. They are then given active certification status and are expected to take the exam during the next cycle. Generally, candidates are expected to take and pass the certifying exam within five years of graduation.
The ABGC recognizes that certification is becoming increasingly important; it currently has some alternate paths for meeting eligibility requirements. These are for candidates who failed to pass the exam during the allotted time and/ or failed to take steps to maintain active candidate status. Between now and 2014, they can apply to take the exam and make up to three attempts at it. In order to be deemed eligible, they must submit a transcript, signed training form, three professional recommendations and five Category 1 CEUs.
Genetic Counseling Salary and Career Outlook
Genetic counseling is a growing profession – and for good reason. It is possible to know much more about one’s genetics than it was a decade or two back. Moreover, some states have enacted laws to screen newborns for illnesses.
According to the website of the U.S. Department of Energy Genome Program, genetic counselors averaged $54,832 in 2008. Those with master’s degrees who had five to nine years of experience earned $61,268.
According the the American Board of Genetic Counseling, work as a genetic counselor generally requires a master’s degree in counseling. If you’re interested in working as a genetic counselor, a great place to start is to get an undergraduate degree in psychology.
To learn more about becoming a genetic counselor, you can contact schools that offer related psychology programs or learn more by reading the career plan discussion on becoming a genetic counselor. If you are still trying to determine the right career choice, take some time to explore additional careers in health care.