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Become A Certified Genetic Counselor

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Working As A Certified Genetic Counselor

  • Interpreting the Meaning of Information for Others
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Getting Information
  • Assisting and Caring for Others
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Deal with People

  • Mostly Sitting

  • $79,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Certified Genetic Counselor Do

Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and support to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.

Duties

Genetic counselors typically do the following:

  • Interview patients to obtain comprehensive individual family and medical histories
  • Evaluate genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific genetic risks
  • 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 and families
  • 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.

Counselors identify these conditions by studying patients’ genes through DNA testing. Medical laboratory technologists perform lab tests, which genetic counselors then evaluate and use for counseling patients and their families. They share this information with other health professionals, such as physicians. For more information, see the profiles on medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and physicians and surgeons.

According to a 2014 survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, approximately three-fourths of genetic counselors work in traditional areas of genetic counseling: prenatal, cancer, and pediatric. The survey noted that the number of specialized fields for genetic counselors has increased. More genetic counselors are specializing in fields such as cardiovascular health, genomic medicine, neurogenetics, and psychiatry.

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How To Become A Certified Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and board certification.

Education

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.

In 2014, there were 31 master’s degree programs in the United States that were accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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.

As of 2015, 20 states required 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.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Patients may seek advice on family care or serious illnesses. Genetic counselors must be sensitive and compassionate when communicating their findings.

Critical-thinking skills. Genetic counselors analyze laboratory findings to determine how best to advise a patient or family. They use their applied knowledge of genetics to assess inherited risks properly.

Decisionmaking skills. Genetic counselors must use their expertise and experience to determine how to share their findings properly with patients.

Speaking skills. Genetic counselors must be able to simplify complex findings so that their patients understand them.

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Certified Genetic Counselor Typical Career Paths

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Certified Genetic Counselor Demographics

Gender

Female

84.6%

Unknown

7.7%

Male

7.7%
Ethnicity

White

52.8%

Asian

24.3%

Hispanic or Latino

11.7%

Black or African American

9.5%

Unknown

1.8%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

German

33.3%

Carrier

33.3%

Spanish

33.3%

Certified Genetic Counselor Education

Schools

Arcadia University

18.2%

Virginia Commonwealth University

9.1%

University of Houston

9.1%

University of Colorado at Boulder

9.1%

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

9.1%

School of Health

9.1%

Brandeis University

9.1%

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

9.1%

University of South Florida

9.1%

University of South Carolina - Columbia

9.1%
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Majors

Mental Health Counseling

50.0%

Ethnic, Gender And Minority Studies

7.1%

Information Systems

7.1%

Genetics

7.1%

Psychology

7.1%

School Counseling

7.1%

Ecology, Population Biology, And Epidemiology

7.1%

Family Therapy

7.1%
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Degrees

Masters

64.3%

Other

21.4%

Doctorate

14.3%

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