Separate from other health science professions, a genetic counselor provides knowledge to their patients about their family history and their chances that a condition to occur or reoccur. They may also counsel a person or their entire family on lifestyle choices that may minimize any health risks that were identified. Some genetic counselors may also work as pharmaceutical consultants for companies and in private practices.
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How to Become a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors generally have at least a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics. Some go on to earn a Ph.D. Coursework includes biology, human development, epidemiology, psychology, and public health. Most degree programs require students to complete clinical rotations that interact directly with patients prior to graduating.
Job Description of a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors work in a vast array of laboratory, clinical, and research settings. Their career options include counseling pregnant women, couples that are planning pregnancy, couples having trouble conceiving, those at risk for having a child with a genetic condition, and women who have experienced miscarriages.
They also counsel families, parents, children, and teenagers who have genetic conditions such as deafness, sickle cell disease, birth defects, and developmental disabilities. They counsel people with genetic and medical conditions or those with a family history of conditions that include cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer disease, and Huntington disease.
Genetic counselors also advise physicians and other people who have ordered genetic testing about the most appropriate genetic test and about how to interpret the test. They can also work in public health settings and improve access to services.
Genetic Counselor Career Video Transcript
Genetic counselors have an ability to see into the future, the future of our health that is. Genetic counselors analyze genetic information to assess a patient’s risk for a variety of conditions, offering helpful information and advice to patients and other healthcare professionals.
Genetic counselors often divide their time between their lab and an office where they meet with patients. They write detailed reports and treatment plans that simplify genetic concepts and explain the pros and cons of different testing options. These professionals have frequent contact with their patients, from the initial interview for medical history, to providing resources, treatment options, and reassurance. They work in a variety of settings, including university medical centers, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and diagnostic labs.
Entering this field requires a master’s degree and a professional certification in genetic counseling. Some states require a license. Staying up to date with current scientific literature is a must. At the end of the day, genetic counselors must be compassionate in delivering sensitive findings, think critically about the risks of conditions and treatments for their patients, and clearly explain the health choices, which are ultimately up to the patient to make.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Genetic Counselors.
National Center for O*NET Development. 29-9092.00. O*NET OnLine.
The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.