Genetic counselors are projected to be in great demand, with an growth rate of about 40 percent over the next few years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.

What is a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors, sometimes referred to as geneticists, use the study and science of genetics to determine risks and incidents of inherited conditions. They use this for helping

physicians make diagnoses of patients, and also to help prospective or expecting parents determine a disease risk and prepare accordingly for coping with it if present in their child. 

According to the BLS, about two-thirds of genetic counselors work in one of the three main areas of genetics: pediatrics, cancer, and pre-natal. Depending upon which area of genetics one practices, the job may also entail writing reports for physicians, meeting with prospective parents or patients’ families to discuss potential or existing genetic disorders, and helping to determine patient treatment plans in the event of a confirmed inherited condition. Also, like most healthcare professionals, genetic counselors also attend conferences and continuing education to stay current on trends in genetic science and share knowledge, ideas, and case studies.

Genetic counselors sometimes perform DNA testing and lab tests on their own, or they may help to interpret tests conducted by others.

Degree Requirements – How to Become a Genetic Counselor

Working as a genetic counselor requires a Master’s degree at a minimum, while many hold a Ph.D.

According to the BLS, the curriculum for a degree in genetic science includes “public health, epidemiology, psychology, and developmental biology. Classes emphasize genetics, public health, and patient empathy. Advanced courses focus on clinical observations, review of previous genetic research, and health communication strategies.”

As with most healthcare careers, working as a genetic counselor requires compassion, empathy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. 

Certification and Licenses for Genetic Counselors

Certification is required for most jobs, and it’s offered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. To qualify for certification, one must successfully complete one of 31 accredited Master’s degree programs, and pass the certification exam.

Average Pay for Geneticists

As of 2012, the most recent data available, the median (midpoint) compensation for genetic counselors is $56,800, according to the BLS. Furthermore, the top ten percent earned upwards of $85,000 annually.

Who Hires Genetic Counselors?

Where do genetic counselors work? They are hired in a variety of settings, including hospitals, university medical centers, medical (physician) offices, and laboratories.

Job Outlook

Although job growth is projected to be very strong, the field of genetic counseling is relatively small, with only about 2,100 working in the United States currently. Therefore, the projected 41 percent growth will equate to about 900 news jobs for genetic counselors through 2022. The greatest job growth is expected to occur in hospital settings.

Related Careers

If you are interested in genetic counseling, you may also be interested in a career as an epidemiologist, physician or surgeon, or other type of counseling career.

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