A genetic counselor evaluates the risk of an individual or the members of a family for genetic abnormalities. You will get a patient’s medical history and talk about various testing options so a more accurate diagnosis can be arrived at. When recommending testing options, you will inform patients about its associated benefits and risks as well as the conditions that can be identified with the test. When the results come out, it will be your responsibility to explain the findings to the patient or communicate it to the recommending physician.
Counseling is at the heart of your work as a genetic counselor. For example, you could guide couples who are planning a pregnancy but who are at risk for passing on genetic defects to their offspring. You could also provide counseling to families who are already dealing with birth defects in their children, sickle cell disease and other genetic conditions. You can also provide counseling to individuals and families who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other genetic conditions. During these sessions, it is your responsibility to educate the patients and their families about the genetic condition, what can be done about it and point them to the resources or agencies that could help them manage it.
To succeed as a genetic counselor, you need to have compassion and sensitivity. For instance, it’s not easy for parents to find out that they have passed on a genetic abnormality to their kids so you need to communicate test findings in a manner that both respects their feelings and empathizes with them. You also need to possess critical thinking skills since you will be scrutinizing laboratory findings and deciding on the best way to inform the patient about the results. You also need to have excellent communication skills so you can explain the health problem clearly to the family. Listening skills are also important so that you can address your patient’s concerns.
Why Become A Genetic Counselor
Genetic counseling is an intellectually challenging career that gives those who are so inclined ample opportunity to guide and provide support to families and patients who are dealing with difficult medical issues. It is also a highly respectable profession in the medical industry that is emotional fulfilling as well. On the practical side, one reason to become a genetic counselor is the very good pay and the positive employment outlook for the profession in the next few years.
Genetic Counselor Work Environment
Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that genetic counselors are typically employed by university medical centers and private and public hospitals. They also work in diagnostic laboratories and doctors’ offices. They follow a regular schedule and work fulltime.
The Occupational Employment and Wages report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the mean annual wage of genetic counselors is $62,800.This is higher than the annual average of $52,030 received by miscellaneous health practitioners and technical workers where genetic counselors, athletic trainers and all other healthcare practitioners and technical workers are classified.
Genetic Counselor Career Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed a highly positive job outlook for genetic counselors. The agency has projected a 41 percent growth rate for this profession in the ten-year period covering 2012 to 2022, a rate that is considered very fast when compared to the national average for all job types. However, it should be understood that genetic counseling is a small profession so only 900 genetic counselors will be added to the 2,100 genetic counselors employed in 2012 bringing their number to 3,000 in 2022.
Genetic Counselor Degree
In order to become a genetic counselor, extensive educational preparation is needed. You will first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree and then proceed to obtain a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics. A master’s degree is the minimal education needed to enter the profession. Some opt to earn a doctoral degree. A license is necessary in some states to practice. To become licensed, genetic counselors must obtain a certification from the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Certification requires completion of a board certified master’s degree and passing an exam. Genetic counselors are also required to earn continuing education units to maintain their certification.