Clinical Geneticist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements
Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a clinical geneticist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the right career for you.
Clinical geneticists focus on analyzing, evaluating and caring for patients with genetic diseases. They screen for inherited conditions and diseases derived from altered DNA. This job requires a bachelor's degree in a biological or physical science field, followed by either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Then, a candidate must complete six years of residency and training to earn certification from the American Board of Medical Genetics. Additionally, M.D.s must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination, while D.O.s must take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. This career field might appeal to an individual with interests in genetic traits, medical practice and disease prevention.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of physicians and surgeons in general was predicted to grow by 14% from 2014-2024, which was much faster than average. In May 2015, the BLS estimated the annual average salary of various types of physicians and surgeons to be $197,700.
Clinical geneticists are specialized physicians who diagnose and treat patients with inherited or otherwise genetically influenced health issues. They organize screenings for inborn errors, prescribe therapy and interact with genetic counselors.
A clinical geneticist evaluates patients at risk for inherited diseases, like Alzheimer's disease, and treats inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and sickle cell disease. Geneticists also treat different forms of cancer and other abnormal conditions associated with genetic alteration.
Medical geneticists begin by evaluating the medical histories of their patients and their patients' families. They collect and analyze DNA samples using gel electrophoresis, Southern blot analysis, polymerase chain reaction analysis and other biochemical processes.
They might supervise laboratory technicians who conduct testing and manage the collection of documents. Clinical geneticists also coordinate testing, management and treatment information with genetic counselors.
Aspiring geneticists must finish as much as eight years of education plus approximately six years of residency to earn American Board of Medical Genetics certification. Generally, individuals complete a biological or physical science bachelor's degree program in order to be prepared for medical school. After completing an M.D. or D.O. degree program, students are eligible for a residency program.
An M.D. or a D.O. can serve a 2-year residency in internal medicine, pediatrics or another medical specialty followed by a genetics fellowship. Alternately, one can enter a 4-5 year residency that pairs genetics with another specialty. Another year of training is needed to be eligible for ABMG subspecialty certification.
The American Board of Medical Genetics offers clinical certification in the areas of genetics, molecular genetics, biochemical genetics and cytogenetics. It also offers certification in the subspecialties of molecular genetic pathology and medical biochemical genetics.
Like all physicians, geneticists must pass the multi-step United States Medical Licensing Examination to practice. Those on the D.O. path can take the USMLE or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. The three steps of these exams are typically taken in the second year and then the fourth year of medical school and at the end of the resident's first year.
In summary, clinical geneticists must meet extensive education, training, licensure and certification requirements to prepare for their career, which focuses on analyzing, evaluating and caring for patients with genetic diseases.