How to Become a Genetic Counselor
This in-demand job puts you at the forefront of vital and evolving research.
The human genome can tell medical professionals a lot about the hereditary conditions that a person may be predisposed to. Learn how to become a genetic counselor, and you’ll be able to crack the DNA code for your patients, helping them to make life-changing decisions that will affect their future health.
As a genetic counselor, you’ll analyze test results to predict whether a baby is likely to have a hereditary disorder such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis and assess whether patients are at risk of developing cancer and other diseases based on their family history. But a genetic counselor is more than a scientist wearing a white coat in a lab. They also provide emotional support and reassurance to patients at a difficult time in their lives.
Becoming a genetic counselor puts you in the center of an emerging and dynamic profession whose growth far outpaces that of other jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the genetic counseling field will skyrocket, growing by 21% over the next 10 years.
What Does a Genetic Counselor Do?
A genetic counselor is a scientist who specializes in genomics, the study of a person’s genes and how they interact in the body and with the outside environment. Genetic counselors assess the results of genetic tests and present their findings and counseling suggestions to physicians and other health care providers.
Some work directly with patients to explain test results and counsel them about possible outcomes. For example, you might assess the likelihood that parents will pass along a hereditary condition, genetic disorder, or birth defect to their children. You would take a DNA sample from a parent, test it to find possible mutations, and report the results to the patient’s physician. You might also explain your findings directly to patients, answer their questions, and advise them on next steps.
While many genetic counselors are generalists who consult on a variety of genetic issues, you might find that you have a keen interest in one or more specific fields of genetics and become a specialist in areas such as:
- cardiovascular health
- genomic medicine
What Is a Typical Day for a Genetic Counselor?
As a genetic counselor, your day will be spent working with lab technicians to process genetic tests, supporting patients, and collaborating with physicians to develop treatment plans. A genetic counselor job description might list additional responsibilities, such as:
- Interviewing patients to create a family and personal medical history, including any possible hereditary conditions
- Presenting patients and doctors with testing options, risks, benefits, and limitations
- Evaluating genetic testing lab results to identify patients who may be at risk for specific genetic disorders
- Writing consultation notes and reports to explain test results to patients and physicians
- Discussing reports with patients, providing information, counseling them, educating them about their treatment options, or reassuring them
- Reading medical journals, participating in professional organizations, and attending conferences to remain current on developments in the field
How to Become a Genetic Counselor
Your path to becoming a genetic counselor includes a combination of education, clinical experience, licensing, and continuing education to keep you up to date on the latest developments in the field.
Genetic Counselor Education Requirements
After completing your undergraduate study, most often with a degree in biology, you’ll need to obtain a master’s level genetic counseling degree from an accredited college or university. During your education, you’ll take classes in:
- public health
- developmental biology
One of your graduation requirements will be to complete clinical rotations working directly with patients in several settings, including prenatal diagnostic centers, pediatric hospitals, and cancer centers.
Need some help paying for school? Check out these scholarships for medicine majors that can cover some of the costs of your education.
Genetic Counselor Accreditation and Licensure
A career as a genetic counselor means that you’ll never stop learning. Once you’ve received your degree, you’ll need to pass an exam to get accreditation from the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Along with following the latest developments in this fast-evolving field, you’ll maintain your board certification by taking continuing education classes throughout your career.
Depending on the state where you practice, you may need to be licensed as well. You can find this information and more from the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
How Much Do Genetic Counselors Make?
Monster data shows the median genetic counselor salary is $66,226 and ranges from $52,203 to more than $78,474. The highest-paying positions are in medical and diagnostic labs, followed by doctor’s offices, hospitals, and colleges and institutions, according to the BLS.
You can look up the average salary for genetic counselors in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.
How to Find Genetic Counselor Jobs
If you’ve just received your degree or are studying how to become a genetic counselor, there’s no better time to peruse genetic counselor jobs on Monster.
BLS identifies the states with the highest employment of genetic counselors as:
The top areas are:
Start Your Career as a Genetic Counselor
Now that you’ve learned how to become a genetic counselor, take the next step in nurturing your career in this exciting and vital field. Upload your resume to Monster for free to grab the attention of world-class recruiters who can help you find the top jobs in your area.