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What are genetic counselors?
Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate
degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling.
Most enter the field from a variety of disciplines, including biology,
genetics, nursing, psychology, public health, and social work.
Genetic counselors work as members of a healthcare team, providing information
and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic
disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited
conditions. They identify families at risk, investigate the problem present
in the family, interpret information about the disorder, analyze inheritance
patterns and risks of recurrence, and review available options with the
Genetic counselors also provide supportive counseling to families, serve
as patient advocates, and refer individuals and families to community
or state support services. They serve as educators and resource people
for other healthcare professionals and for the general public. Some counselors
also work in administrative capacities. Many engage in research activities
related to the field of medical genetics and genetic counseling.
See the National Society of Genetic Counselors' definition.
Where can I find information about genetic counselors
in my area?
National Resources for Locating Genetic Counselors By Area
How can I become a genetic counselor?
Genetic counselors hold a Master's degree from one of over 30
accredited U.S. graduate programs. International training programs are also available. Students in these programs study genetics,
psychosocial theory, ethics, and counseling. They also participate in
clinical training. Certification is obtained through successful completion
of documented clinical experience and the American Board of Genetic Counseling's
examination. A listing of genetic counseling training programs is available through the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
Genetic counseling is a growing field that offers opportunities in a variety of areas.
Among the possibilities are
- Clinical - working with patients and families in hospitals, private practice, or on a consulting basis. Genetic counselors may specialize in genetic counseling in the prenatal, pediatric, cancer-risk, adult, cardiovascular, hematology, neurogenetics setting.
- Commercial - working with biotech companies which design, sell, and administer genetic tests
- Diagnostic Laboratories – working as a liaison between the diagnostic laboratory and referring physicians and their patients
- Education and Public Policy - teaching and advising companies, students, and lawmakers
- Research – working as a study coordinator for research projects involved in genetics
Average income for genetic counselors with a master's degree and 5-9
years experience in 2006 was $61,268. Median salary for a typical genetic
counselor in 2008 in the United States was $54,832.
Genetic Counseling FAQs
- Listings of Graduate Programs
- National Society of Genetic Counselors
- C. Evans and P. Harper, Genetic Counseling, A Psychological Approach,
- P. S. Harper, Practical Genetic Counseling (6th Edition),
- P. McCarthy Veach, B. LeRoy, and D. Bartels, Facilitating the
Genetic Counseling Process: A Practice Manual, 2003.
- K. Schneider, Counseling About Cancer: Strategies for Genetic
Counseling (2nd. Edition), 2001.
- Psyche and Helix: Psychological Aspects of Genetic Counseling,
ed. R. Resta, 2000.
- J. Well, Psychosocial Genetic Counseling, 2000.
- A Guide to Genetic Counseling, ed. D. L. Baker, J. Schuette,
and W. Uhlmann, 1998.
A special thanks to Meghan E. Carey, Executive Director, National Society of Genetic Counselors (www.nsgc.org) for her review and updates to this page.