Careers in Medical Genetics: Job Options and Requirements

Oct 04, 2019

Medical geneticists require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Medical scientists, genetic counselors, cytogeneticists, biochemical geneticists and clinical molecular geneticists are all highly- trained medical professionals who work in the field of medical genetics. Genetic counselors need to have a master's degree in a field related to genetic counseling. Medical scientists are required to graduate from medical school and complete a residency.

Essential Information

Medical geneticists diagnose and treat patients with genetic diseases or disorders through radiological and biochemical testing with the goal of improving the quality of life for these patients. There are a variety of types of genetics that individuals can specialize in such as clinical laboratory genetics, cytogenetics, biochemical genetics, and clinical molecular genetics. To prepare for these careers students need to successfully complete a doctoral or medical degree program and two years of residency training. They may also complete a fellowship program and obtain a specialty certification. Another career path in genetics would be to pursue a genetic counseling degree. Genetic counselors provide guidance and support to individuals and families with genetic disorders. These individuals obtain a master's degree and become certified in order to enter this field.

Career Medical Scientists Genetic Counselors
Required Education Medical School Master's
Other Requirements Residency training
Certifications fellowship/ABMG specialty ABGC cert exam
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% 27%
Median Salary (2018)* $84,810 $80,370

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Clinical Geneticist Requirements

Clinical geneticists are physicians who provide healthcare to patients with genetic disorders or diseases. They work in a variety of healthcare settings, diagnosing inherited conditions like breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease. They then educate patients about their conditions and prepare treatment plans. Clinical geneticists may also work with patients to anticipate and prevent the onset of hereditary diseases.

Clinical geneticists must graduate from medical school, obtain medical licensure and complete at least a 2-year residency program in internal medicine or another field of medicine. They must also complete at least two years of residency training in clinical genetics and obtain specialty certification from the American Board of Medical Genetics (ABMG).

Clinical Laboratory Geneticist Requirements

Clinical laboratory geneticists work in medical labs, administering diagnostic tests to detect genetic abnormalities. They also interpret test results and relay their findings to physicians. Clinical laboratory geneticists may devise improved ways of testing and develop other medical advancements. These professionals may subspecialize in a facet of the field, such as cytogenetics, biochemical genetics or molecular genetics.

To become a clinical laboratory geneticist, students must complete a medical or doctoral degree program, followed by at least two years of residency training. They may then complete a 2-year fellowship program in clinical laboratory genetics and obtain ABMG specialty certification. Those interested in becoming subspecialists may be required to complete an additional year of fellowship training to become certified in each subspecialty.


Cytogeneticists are subspecialists who focus on the arrangement and functions of chromosomes. They run tests to locate chromosomal anomalies that may signify cancer or various genetic disorders.

Biochemical Genetics

Biochemical geneticists identify and analyze defects that cause metabolic disorders. They may test digestive acids, lipids and nutrients in patients' bodies. Biochemical geneticists may also administer treatments for metabolic conditions.

Clinical Molecular Genetics

Clinical molecular geneticists apply their extensive knowledge of molecular biology to study the function and structure of genes. They test for DNA mutations related to a range of diseases and disorders. They may also serve as consultants for clinical geneticists during the diagnoses of various disorders.

Genetic Counselor Requirements

Genetic counselors provide mental and emotional guidance to patients with genetic disorders. They work in a variety of medical settings, helping afflicted patients cope with their conditions and make choices concerning their health. Genetic counselors may work with entire families, evaluating medical patterns among relatives and helping them make informed healthcare decisions.

Unlike geneticists who work in clinics and labs, genetic counselors may enter the profession with a master's degree in genetic counseling. Such degree programs focus on theory and methodology in genetic therapy and analysis. Graduates of these programs may then become Certified Genetic Counselors by passing the American Board of Genetic Counseling's certification exam.

Career and Salary Information

Within the field of medical genetics, a person's job prospects and earning potential can vary by job title and career path. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the number of employed medical scientists in general will increase by 8% between 2018 and 2028. The median salary among these professionals was $84,810 as of 2018.

The median salary for genetic counselors, meanwhile, was $80,370 in 2018, according to the BLS. Job openings for these professionals were expected to increase 27% from 2018-2028, which is considerably faster than the national average of 5%.

Medical scientists research issues related to genetic illnesses, and may specialize as cytogeneticists, biochemical geneticists and clinical molecular geneticists, who focus on specific types of testing and genetic disorders. Genetic counselors work with those with genetic disorders and offer emotional support and information to help patients make informed health decisions. Medical scientists and genetic counselors play vital roles in identifying and treating those with genetic illnesses.

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