Genetic counselors provide patients with data about the risks of genetically inherited conditions. Due to the advancing medical and technological innovations, genetic counselors will progressively be able to conduct more thorough and accurate analyses of patients' DNA.
Genetic counselors are trained specialists who determine risk factors for hereditary diseases and disorders in patients. They provide genetic testing and offer education and counseling to patients and their families. A master's degree in the field is required, and some states mandate licensure for the profession. Certification as a genetic counselor is typically required in order to obtain state licensure.
|Required Education||Master's degree|
|Other Requirements||Licensure required by some states; certification typically leads to licensure|
|Projected Job Growth*||29% (2014-2024)|
|Median Salary*||$72,090 annually (2015)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary Information for Genetic Counselors
Genetic counselors typically earned a median annual salary of $72,090, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2015. Additionally, the BLS projected job growth of 29% for genetic counselors between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average. This growth is likely due to innovations in genetic testing.
Duties of a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors work at hospitals, universities, laboratories, and private clinics. They are trained to analyze genetic data and communicate risk factors to patients and their families. A family history of cancer, muscular dystrophy, or cystic fibrosis might cause an individual to seek genetic counseling. Tasked with identifying potential predispositions for physical and mental diseases and disorders, genetic counselors are trained in the following:
- Analyze patient histories
- Provide genetic testing
- Perform genetic risk calculations
- Educate families about potential health risks
- Help patients to cope with a diagnosis
Genetic Counselor Requirements
Those interested in the field must complete a master's degree program in genetic counseling. Due to the small number of accredited programs, graduate schools often have a highly selective admission process. Students can prepare for admission with undergraduate courses in chemistry, biology, genetics, and psychology. Schools may require or strongly recommend paid or volunteer experience prior to enrolling in the professional program. Graduate program coursework requires clinical training through internships where students learn about the following:
- Molecular genetics
- Genetic screening
- Counseling ethics and techniques
- Research methods
- Prenatal diagnosis
- Population studies
- Birth defects
A few states mandate licensing of genetic counselors. In addition to earning a master's degree, candidates for licensure may be required to submit documented experience and pass a state examination. Licenses are typically valid for a determinate period and may require continuing education for renewal.
Certification is offered through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Graduates of a master's degree program with supervised clinical experience may be eligible to test for the Certified Genetic Counselor credential. Certification exams are offered annually and must be kept current through continuing education.
Genetic counselors are experts in genetic research for birth defects and hereditary illnesses. These counselors are expected to be in high demand in the oncoming years because of the new breadth and depth of analyses they can now perform. A combination of a master's degree and certification is the best way to enter the profession.