What Does a Clinical Geneticist Do?
Clinical geneticists are medical doctors who specialize in treating and diagnosing conditions that have a genetic origin. They can perform screening tests to identify problematic genes, determine the likelihood of a patient suffering as a result of that gene or of the gene being passed on to children, and establish treatment plans that can help to mitigate the symptoms of the disease. They also deal with other problems that originate with a person's DNA, such as chromosomal disorders and birth defects. A clinical geneticist job description would generally look similar to that of most doctors, although they may have more of an interest in a patient's family's medical history, as this background can provide much-needed context for possible genetic disorders. Like other doctors, clinical geneticists require substantial education and training before they can enter the field, and must possess a valid medical license to practice.
Clinical Geneticist Education and Training
To become a clinical geneticist, a student would first need to complete a bachelor's degree, ideally one focused on biology, genetics, or biomedical sciences. As they near the end of their time as an undergraduate, the aspiring doctor should begin looking for medical schools. Admission requirements are likely to involve entrance exams such as the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and require high grades. Clinical geneticists can be either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), so programs resulting in either degree are an option. Upon entering medical school, a student might take courses such as:
- Human anatomy and physiology
The first two years of medical school are likely to consist of mostly classroom work, while the final two years involve more clinical time and hands-on learning. Students in these last years may be able to choose electives that help develop their desired specialty in medical genetics, although courses in this area are not commonly offered. Most learning about medical genetics is likely to take place after graduation from medical school while working as a resident at a site that's accredited in clinical biochemical genetics. Residency can last several years, and it may be necessary to take part in a more general residency before moving on to a specialized medical genetics residency.
Licensure and Certification for Clinical Geneticists
As with other varieties of medical doctor, clinical geneticists must be licensed in the state in which they live to practice. MDs must take the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), while DOs must take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) to become licensed. The details of licensure vary from state to state.
To be recognized as a clinical geneticist, it is recommended to receive certification, which can act as proof of your dedication to a specialty and may be more enticing to employers. Certification of clinical geneticists is performed by the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG). To become certified, a graduate holding an M.D. or D.O. must have completed at least 1 year of general residency followed by at least 2 years of medical genetics residency. Combined 4-year residencies are also an option. Endorsements from other certified clinical geneticists may be necessary, and all applicants will be required to pass a certification exam before being recognized as possessing a specialty in clinical genetics.
Clinical Geneticist Salary and Career Info
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on clinical geneticists specifically, it lists the median salary for all physicians as $208,000 or more per year. According to Payscale.com, clinical geneticists have a median annual salary of $145,864, based on voluntarily submitted data. Clinical geneticists may work in hospitals, specialized genetics clinics, or private practice. The BLS predicts a 7% growth in employment of physicians overall for the 10 years from 2018-2028, with growth driven by the needs of the aging population.