Become a Genetic Counselor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a genetic counselor. Research the education requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in genetic counseling.

Should I Become a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors help educate people about their chances of inheriting genetic disorders or diseases using information from a patient's family medical history. They explain possible testing options and provide support to patients and family members. They also might educate other healthcare professionals, students, and the public about genetic disorders. Sharing potentially upsetting results with clients can be stressful.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Genetic counseling, biology, psychology or related field
Licensure and Certification Certification is required by some employers; licensing is required by many states
Experience Experience requirements vary by employer, but generally the minimum is two years
Key Skills Excellent writing, communication and decision-making skills, knowledge of Human Mutation Databases and Genome Browsers, knowledge of Human Genome Variation Society (HGVS) nomenclature
Salary (2014) The median salary for genetic counselors was $67,500 in 2014

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in biology or a healthcare-related field typically is a requirement for enrolling in a genetic counseling master's degree program. These programs provide students with the science and math knowledge needed for a career in genetic counseling. Coursework focused in genetics, biochemistry, and statistics is valuable to future genetic counselors.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an internship. Some schools offer internships or summer programs for students interested in genetic counseling. These programs provide students with a chance to gain experience at clinics or hospitals and prepare them for a graduate degree program.
  • Do volunteer work or provide counseling. Performing work for a crisis hotline or reproductive counseling service can help provide the skills and qualifications needed for a graduate program in genetic counseling.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree in genetic counseling usually is required for genetic counselor positions. These programs typically provide coursework in human genetics, lab work, counseling and research. Students develop the skills needed to research, counsel and consult with patients, their families and members of the healthcare community to provide information on genetic conditions. Admission requirements usually include a bachelor's degree with credits in genetics, biochemistry and statistics. Some schools require applicants to have performed some type of counseling work.

Step 3: Get Certified/Licensed

The American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC) offers a certification program. This certification is technically voluntary; however, some states require it for licensing, and some employers prefer it. In addition, some states require genetic counselors to become licensed before performing work with the public. Certification requirements include completion of a graduate degree program in genetic counseling through an ABGC-accredited program and passage of a written exam. ABGC certification can serve as proof of competency and give job candidates an edge in employment.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience

Entry-level positions allow genetic counselors to work under supervision, assessing patients, and providing counseling. More advanced positions allow genetic counselors to work independently at these duties, in addition to performing research and providing education to the public and healthcare professionals.

Success Tip:

  • Continue education. The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) provides individuals with online education resources and opportunities to network with other members of the field. Courses go over self-marketing, mentoring, and instructional guides on starting a clinic.

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