How to become a genetic counselor

How to become a genetic counselor

Genetic Counselors

assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. Provide information to other healthcare providers or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions. Advise individuals and families to support informed decisionmaking and coping methods for those at risk. May help conduct research related to genetic conditions or genetic counseling.

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Aspiring Genetic Counselors typically need a Master’s degree to pursue this career. Genetic Counselors often earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Genetics and a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling.

Many states and most employers require Genetic Counselors to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

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Genetic Counselors Requirements

Step 1: Excel at Science in High School

The first step in becoming a Genetic Counselor is to explore the biological sciences. High school students should take science courses each year instead of stopping after meeting their state’s science requirements.

Most states require high school students to complete Biology and two additional science courses. After completing the required science credits, take the highest level of science available to enhance your college applications. You may complete Chemistry, Physics, or advanced placement (AP) science courses.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Before earning a degree in Genetic Counseling, you need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. When selecting a Bachelor’s program, ensure that it fulfills the entry requirements for your preferred Master’s program. You may need to complete specific coursework during your undergraduate studies.

Some Master’s programs require applicants to complete undergraduate courses in Biochemistry, Statistics, and Advanced Genetics. Most Master’s programs do not require a specific major. However, aspiring Genetic Counselors typically major in a biological science such as Genetics, Biology, or Biochemistry.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

Becoming a board-certified Genetic Counselor requires you to earn a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling or Genetics. Most Masters of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling programs are two years in length.

Master’s programs contain a combination of classroom learning, clinical internships, and fieldwork. Internships and fieldwork provide hands-on training in clinics and hospitals. You will interact with patients and assist with diagnosing genetic issues.

During an MS program for Genetic Counseling, students learn more about genetic testing, counseling techniques, ethics, prenatal genetics, and clinical genetics. You may also explore various specializations within the Genetic Counseling field. Subspecialty areas include cardiology, neurology, hematology, pediatrics, cancer, and obstetrics.

The Master’s program that you complete should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). There are about 40 ACGC-accredited programs in North America. If the program is not accredited, you may not qualify for board certification.

Step 4: Become a Board-Certified Genetic Counselor

About half of the states in the US require Genetic Counselors to become licensed. The licensing requirements vary but you typically need to obtain certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Even if your state does not require licensing, employers typically prefer to hire board-certified Genetic Counselors.

Becoming certified requires you to pass an exam. The exam is computer-based and administered at an approved testing center. You have four hours to complete 200 multiple choice questions, including 170 scored questions. You need to answer a minimum of 125 questions correctly to pass the exam.

Step 5: Apply for Genetic Counseling Positions

After earning your certification, start looking for Genetic Counseling positions. About 43% of Genetic Counselors typically work in hospitals. Other common employers include physician offices, medical labs, outpatient care centers, and universities.

Genetic Counseling is a relatively new field compared to other healthcare professions and is more in demand in certain regions. As of 2019, a total of 2600 Genetic Counselor jobs existed in the US.

If you cannot find employment in your home state, you may need to consider relocating. Some of the states with the highest employment opportunities for Genetic Counselors include Washington, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Step 6: Continue Your Education

To maintain your Genetic Counseling certification, you need to complete certain continuing education requirements. The ABGC requires Genetic Counselors to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every five years. You may also take an exam as an alternative to completing CEUs.

Certified Genetic Counselors are called “Diplomates” by the ABGC. Each Diplomate is responsible for recertification within the allotted time frame. You must also maintain your contact information and keep current with the latest ABGC policies and regulations.

What degree do most Genetic Counselors have

We did a survey to ask other Genetic Counselors what degree they had when they first became one. Here are the results.

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Genetic counseling is a highly controversial medical career which relies on advances in medical technology and genetic testing to help people make lifestyle and health-related decisions. If you want to be involved in a medical profession that supports families during a tough decision-making process and you have the capacity to be sensitive and decisive during a critical period in a patient’s life, then a career as a genetic counselor may be right for you!

Training and education needed to become a genetic counselor

The education and training needed to pursue a career as a genetic counselor is not as rigorous as that of becoming a board-certified physician, but you should expect to spend up to six years in college: four years at the undergraduate level and an additional two at the graduate level. Genetic counselors must have a Master’s degree to practice. While it typically does not matter which major you pursue at the undergraduate level, you must pursue a Master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling to become a board-certified genetic counselor through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. There are only 31 programs in the US that offer such a career path. You’ll take classes in biology, epidemiology, genetics, public health, and genetics as a part of any program. You’ll need to decide on a specialization within genetic counseling – pediatric, prenatal, and cancer are among your choices of specialization. Settling on a specialization within genetic counseling will make your job search that much easier, as you will have an area of focus.

Duties and responsibilities of a genetic counselor

Genetic counseling involves a significant amount of client interaction, so it is imperative that you are a compassionate professional who can explain medical terminology in layman’s terms so that your clients understand the full scope of their individual situations. You’ll work with couples, families, and individuals, so you’ll need the ability to communicate with groups and in one-on-one settings. Clients rely on you to recommend the appropriate testing to help them make medical decisions. For example, couples planning to have children may want to know whether they will pass inherited diseases onto their offspring, so you’ll need to take a family history and make the necessary test recommendations. Individuals at risk for certain diseases, such as cancer, will depend upon you to explain genetic test results in a sensitive and compassionate manner, since thinking about future medical problems can be a traumatic experience. Your ability to communicate effectively and clearly is key, as you’ll be interpreting lab diagnostic results and making recommendations to clients who may be sensitive about receiving bad news.

Salaries and employment outlook for genetic counselors

Genetics counselors are rare in the medical profession, with under 2,500 counselors currently practicing in the US. Because this career path is new and cutting-edge, it is expected to have a positive employment outlook, growing faster than most other careers as awareness about the benefits of genetic counseling grows and families become empowered to manage their own health outcomes. For your compassionate work counseling families and couples about genetic health, you can expect to earn an average salary of $69,000. The more education you have earned beyond your Master’s degree, the higher your salary will be.

Genetic counseling was once a thing of science fiction. Technology has advanced so that science fiction has become science fact. You can make a difference in the lives of patients by becoming a genetic counselor!

How to become a genetic counselor

How did I get there?

I have been asked many times over the years how I became interested in genetic counseling. For me, the lightbulb moment came while I was in high school. Early on, I had thought about several different future careers, including something in the healthcare field, but then I developed a special interest in genetics during my second year of biology and decided that I wanted to pursue some type of career in this field.

How to become a genetic counselor

I started looking at colleges that offered genetics as a major, and it all clicked one day as I was visiting my future alma mater. While touring the school, I had the opportunity to meet with a professor in the Genetics Department, and he shared a booklet with me that described many different careers one could pursue with a genetics degree, one being genetic counseling.

As I read through this information, I learned that:

a genetic counselor is a health care professional who works closely with individuals who are undergoing evaluation and testing because there is concern for a possible underlying genetic condition, and they help to provide education and support to these individuals and their families during this process.

I was intrigued that genetic counselors could work with a variety of patients, including pediatric and adult patients, and they could practice in both the clinical and research settings. I quickly realized that genetic counseling would be the perfect fit for me given my affinity for genetics and my interest in working in healthcare. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, there were actually a few more steps in there.

To practice as a genetic counselor, one must complete a Master’s training program. Most genetic counselors enter their training program with an undergraduate degree in a biological science and/or psychology. There are currently 37 accredited Master’s training programs in the US and several outside the US. Most programs have a two year curriculum along with a thesis requirement. The second year of the program is typically spent in clinical rotations where the student gains experience in seeing patients while being supervised by certified genetic counselors. Once in practice, most employers require that a genetic counselor pass the board certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counselors and maintain certification through completion of continuing education.

Because admission to a genetic counseling Master’s program can be competitive, I always encourage interested students to investigate several different programs to ensure they understand all of the prerequisites and suggest that they consider applying to multiple schools. Observation with a genetic counselor and volunteer work in a related area are also very helpful experiences when applying to graduate schools for genetic counseling. The Greenwood Genetic Center offers a summer internship program in which undergraduate students can spend time in one of our clinical settings and learn about the field of genetic counseling. I was very fortunate to have this opportunity when I was in college and can say that this experience not only helped reinforce my decision to become a genetic counselor, it was also invaluable to me as I prepared to apply to graduate schools.

How can I learn more?

If you have interest in the genetic counseling profession, please reach out to a genetic counselor in your local area to learn more about opportunities that may be available for shadowing and observation. We are happy to share our stories and answer your questions. You can find a local genetic counselor along with a wealth of other information at the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website. The American Board of Genetic Counseling also has great information about the profession and Master’s training programs.

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Genetic counseling is a highly controversial medical career which relies on advances in medical technology and genetic testing to help people make lifestyle and health-related decisions. If you want to be involved in a medical profession that supports families during a tough decision-making process and you have the capacity to be sensitive and decisive during a critical period in a patient’s life, then a career as a genetic counselor may be right for you!

Training and education needed to become a genetic counselor

The education and training needed to pursue a career as a genetic counselor is not as rigorous as that of becoming a board-certified physician, but you should expect to spend up to six years in college: four years at the undergraduate level and an additional two at the graduate level. Genetic counselors must have a Master’s degree to practice. While it typically does not matter which major you pursue at the undergraduate level, you must pursue a Master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling to become a board-certified genetic counselor through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. There are only 31 programs in the US that offer such a career path. You’ll take classes in biology, epidemiology, genetics, public health, and genetics as a part of any program. You’ll need to decide on a specialization within genetic counseling – pediatric, prenatal, and cancer are among your choices of specialization. Settling on a specialization within genetic counseling will make your job search that much easier, as you will have an area of focus.

Duties and responsibilities of a genetic counselor

Genetic counseling involves a significant amount of client interaction, so it is imperative that you are a compassionate professional who can explain medical terminology in layman’s terms so that your clients understand the full scope of their individual situations. You’ll work with couples, families, and individuals, so you’ll need the ability to communicate with groups and in one-on-one settings. Clients rely on you to recommend the appropriate testing to help them make medical decisions. For example, couples planning to have children may want to know whether they will pass inherited diseases onto their offspring, so you’ll need to take a family history and make the necessary test recommendations. Individuals at risk for certain diseases, such as cancer, will depend upon you to explain genetic test results in a sensitive and compassionate manner, since thinking about future medical problems can be a traumatic experience. Your ability to communicate effectively and clearly is key, as you’ll be interpreting lab diagnostic results and making recommendations to clients who may be sensitive about receiving bad news.

Salaries and employment outlook for genetic counselors

Genetics counselors are rare in the medical profession, with under 2,500 counselors currently practicing in the US. Because this career path is new and cutting-edge, it is expected to have a positive employment outlook, growing faster than most other careers as awareness about the benefits of genetic counseling grows and families become empowered to manage their own health outcomes. For your compassionate work counseling families and couples about genetic health, you can expect to earn an average salary of $69,000. The more education you have earned beyond your Master’s degree, the higher your salary will be.

Genetic counseling was once a thing of science fiction. Technology has advanced so that science fiction has become science fact. You can make a difference in the lives of patients by becoming a genetic counselor!

How to become a genetic counselor

How did I get there?

I have been asked many times over the years how I became interested in genetic counseling. For me, the lightbulb moment came while I was in high school. Early on, I had thought about several different future careers, including something in the healthcare field, but then I developed a special interest in genetics during my second year of biology and decided that I wanted to pursue some type of career in this field.

How to become a genetic counselor

I started looking at colleges that offered genetics as a major, and it all clicked one day as I was visiting my future alma mater. While touring the school, I had the opportunity to meet with a professor in the Genetics Department, and he shared a booklet with me that described many different careers one could pursue with a genetics degree, one being genetic counseling.

As I read through this information, I learned that:

a genetic counselor is a health care professional who works closely with individuals who are undergoing evaluation and testing because there is concern for a possible underlying genetic condition, and they help to provide education and support to these individuals and their families during this process.

I was intrigued that genetic counselors could work with a variety of patients, including pediatric and adult patients, and they could practice in both the clinical and research settings. I quickly realized that genetic counseling would be the perfect fit for me given my affinity for genetics and my interest in working in healthcare. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, there were actually a few more steps in there.

To practice as a genetic counselor, one must complete a Master’s training program. Most genetic counselors enter their training program with an undergraduate degree in a biological science and/or psychology. There are currently 37 accredited Master’s training programs in the US and several outside the US. Most programs have a two year curriculum along with a thesis requirement. The second year of the program is typically spent in clinical rotations where the student gains experience in seeing patients while being supervised by certified genetic counselors. Once in practice, most employers require that a genetic counselor pass the board certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counselors and maintain certification through completion of continuing education.

Because admission to a genetic counseling Master’s program can be competitive, I always encourage interested students to investigate several different programs to ensure they understand all of the prerequisites and suggest that they consider applying to multiple schools. Observation with a genetic counselor and volunteer work in a related area are also very helpful experiences when applying to graduate schools for genetic counseling. The Greenwood Genetic Center offers a summer internship program in which undergraduate students can spend time in one of our clinical settings and learn about the field of genetic counseling. I was very fortunate to have this opportunity when I was in college and can say that this experience not only helped reinforce my decision to become a genetic counselor, it was also invaluable to me as I prepared to apply to graduate schools.

How can I learn more?

If you have interest in the genetic counseling profession, please reach out to a genetic counselor in your local area to learn more about opportunities that may be available for shadowing and observation. We are happy to share our stories and answer your questions. You can find a local genetic counselor along with a wealth of other information at the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website. The American Board of Genetic Counseling also has great information about the profession and Master’s training programs.

How to become a genetic counselor

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (4 Years)

Aspiring genetic counselors must complete master’s degree in a science-intensive field, such as a premed program, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry.

These programs provides students with the scientific and mathematical knowledge necessary for success.

The preparation timeline below provides an example premed curriculum:

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

In order to be accepted into a graduate program, students must pass the Graduate Requisite Examination (GRE) with a sufficient score to be accepted into the school they’re interested in.

The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:

3. Earn a Master’s Degree (2 Years)

Completing a master’s degree in genetic counseling at a properly accredited university is essential. Topics of study include molecular genetics, cytogenetics, ethics, counseling, and both clinical and population genetics.

Candidates should ensure that all courses and programs have Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) accreditation.

The preparation timeline below provides an example graduate genetic counseling curriculum:

4. Earn the Certification (Optional)

Once the counselor earns a degree, the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) offers an exam which confirms the student as a certified genetic counselor.

Becoming certified is not a requirement to enter the field but does typically lead to more opportunities and an edge in the hiring process. However, a certification speaks to the individual’s authority and trustworthiness on the subject, so earning one is highly advisable. 5

5. Earn the Required License

Many states require counselors to become licensed before beginning to practice. Genetic counselors should check their state and local registration.

Genetic counselors are multi-faceted. They have genetic knowledge and also skills in talking people through difficult issues. Are you interested in becoming one? You’ll need a master’s degree to practice, but you can start developing your skills as early as high school. Here are some tips and resources to get you started.

Become a Genetic Counselor

  • Career Plan: How to Become a Genetic Counselor
  • Schools offering: Psychology Degrees

Genetic Counseling Resources…

  • Genetic Counselor Licensure / Certification
  • Duties & Statistics:Genetic Counselor
  • Related Patient Care Careers

Make sure you’re ready for rigorous college-level science courses. Consider honors or AP biology. Also develop your communicative abilities. You can get experience helping people through challenges by volunteering as a peer counselor.

Do some career exploration. The Area Health Education Center is a potential resource.

Research undergraduate programs. Select a major that you’re passionate about. The American Board of Medical Counseling notes that a majority of prospective genetic counselors hold bachelor’s degrees in psychology, health, or medical sciences. Request information from schools that offer undergraduate psychology degrees.

If you want to explore genetics in-depth at the undergraduate level, you may want to consider molecular biology.

You could also opt for a social sciences major. Look ahead to see the prerequisites of master’s programs you are considering. Typical prerequisites include biology, chemistry, psychology, and statistics.

Seek out professional experiences. You’ll find a lot of internships related to the genetic counseling profession listed on people.rit.edu (a site maintained by Rochester Institute of Technology).

Research master’s programs and fill out applications.

Seek out professional experiences while in grad school. You may want to consider student membership in the National Society of Genetic Counselors. There’s a mentorship program available. You will also have access to Listservs that you can use to increase your knowledge base, communicate with professionals, and (later) find a job.

Complete your program and fulfill licensing requirements, if applicable.

It’s time for your first position as a genetic counselor. You’ll find online career resources on the NSGC site. The NSGC recommends that you attend regional and national meetings and do some networking.

Personality Traits: Genetic counselors should have scientific aptitude and empathy.

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.

Genetic Counselor Salary

How to become a genetic counselor

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.