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.

Do I Want to Be 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.

Job Requirements

A master's degree in genetic counseling or a related field is required for most genetic counselor positions, and some states require licensure or certification. The following table lists the most common requirements for becoming a genetic counselor.

Common 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*
Computer Skills Knowledge of Human Mutation Databases and Genome Browsers**
Technical Skills Knowledge of Human Genome Variation Society (HGVS) nomenclature**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** job ads (Nov. 2012).

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-based 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

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. 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: Get Licensed

Some states require genetic counselors to become licensed before performing work with the public. Requirements generally include a graduate degree in genetic counseling from an ABGC-accredited program and passing an examination. In some states, continuing education is necessary for license renewal.

Step 5: 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.

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