How To Become a Genetic Counselor
A genetic counselor is a type of health professional that has a specialized graduate degree and specific experience in medical genetics and counseling. Professionals tend to enter this profession from other related professions, including biology, nursing, psychology, social work and public health. A master’s degree in public health is a useful degree in this field, as it gives you a background in how genetics can affect public health.
Genetic counselors most often work as a part of a comprehensive healthcare team. They provide information and support to family members who have relatives who have congenital birth defects or some sort of genetic disorder. They also provide advice and counseling to family members who are at risk for some kind of inherited diseases.
A genetic counselor works to identify which family members might be at risk for a disease, do research to determine what problem if any runs in the family, interpret any known information about the disease, and then analyze any detected inheritance patterns.
Genetic Counselor Career & Salary Outlook
The field of genetic counseling is growing as technology becomes more advanced. Some of the areas where you may work include:
- Clinical: You may work with families and patients in hospitals or in a private practice. You might provide genetic counseling services in several settings: prenatal, cancer-risk, hematology and neurogenetics.
- Commercial: Work with biotech firms that sell genetic tests
- Diagnostic Labs: Liaison between the lab and physicians and their patients
- Research: Perform tasks as a study coordinator
Job Outlook for Genetic Counselors
The job outlook for genetic counselors is growing as science and technology is growing more and more advanced. Generally, there is a growing emphasis on personalized medicine that will boost the demand for these professionals, as they are trained to provide highly complex medical information in an understandable fashion to families.
The median salary in 2008 for a genetic counselor was $61,200.
Genetic Counselor Education and Training
A genetic counselor needs to hold a master’s degree in the field, from one of about 30 graduate schools in the US. There also are some international training programs available in this field. Usually, students study genetics, psychosocial theory, counseling, and ethics. They also have to spend several hundred supervised hours in clinical training. Genetic counselors are also required to be certified through an examination that is done by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. If you have a master’s degree in public health, this can be very useful as an entry into public sector work in genetic counseling at federal agencies, such as at NIH.