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Counselor, Genetic

ActivitiesGenetic counselors often work in clinical practice with prenatal, pediatric, adult, and/or cancer genetics patients. They are members of healthcare teams that provide information and support to families whose members may have or are at risk of having various genetic conditions. Many genetic counselors are involved in education of health care professionals as well as the general population. Genetic counselors also coordinate and/or conduct research projects in a variety of settings, serve as consultants, work in the marketing departments of commercial laboratories, and coordinate state run genetics programs.

OutlookFaster-than-average-job growth

Median Income$43,600 per year in 2008

Work Context & ConditionsMost genetic counselors in a clinical setting typically work a 40-hour work week and work in medical office buildings or outpatient areas of hospitals. The job is not physically demanding but can sometimes be emotionally demanding given the nature of some cases. Travel to outside clinics is sometimes required. Genetic counselors may also work in association with academic and/or commercial laboratories.

Minimum Education RequirementsMaster's Degree

SkillsSocial Perceptiveness, Active Listening, Writing, Time Management, Judgment and Decision Making, Coordination, Speaking

AbilitiesOral Expression, Written Comprehension, Speech Clarity, Inductive Reasoning, Written Expression, Oral Comprehension

Job Description
Job CategoryCommunity & Social Services

Job DescriptionGenetic counselors can work in a wide variety of settings. The most common setting is a clinical practice. Genetic counselors work in prenatal, pediatric, adult and cancer clinics. In these settings, genetic counselors work as part of a health care team providing information and support to individuals who have or are at risk of having birth defects or genetic conditions, and their families. They analyze family history information, interpret information about specific disorders, discuss the inheritance patterns, assess the risk to individuals and review available options for testing or management with families. In addition to informative counseling, genetic counselors also provide supportive counseling to help individuals and families cope with and adapt to their altered circumstances.

Many genetic counselors are involved in educating medical residents, medical students, genetic counseling students, physicians, other health care providers and the general public. Frequently, genetic counselors are involved in research activities related to the field of medical genetics and genetic counseling.

Genetic counselors also work in laboratories as a resource for other health care professionals regarding the most appropriate testing plan for a patient. Some counselors are now working for agencies such as the NIH, CDC and state Departments of Health. Others are working for pharmaceutical companies in the area of pharmacogenetics.

Working ConditionsGenetic counselors in clinical settings work in a medical office building or outpatient area of a hospital. They will often be meeting face-to-face with their patients. The job is not physically demanding, but may involve travel to satellite offices to provide counseling. The emotional nature of some situations can be demanding. Full-time genetic counselors typically work approximately 40 hours per week, though there are many genetic counselors working part time.

Salary RangeThe median annual income for genetic counselors in 2008 was $43.600. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,200 and $65,900. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,900 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,200.

Education RequiredCurrently, 27 training programs offer master's degrees in genetic counseling in the United States and there are three accredited training programs in Canada. Coursework typically includes clinical genetics, population genetics, cytogenetics, and molecular genetics coupled with psychosocial theory, ethics and counseling techniques. Clinical placement in approved medical genetics centers is an integral part of the degree requirement. Additionally, there are non-accredited genetic counseling programs in Australia, England and South Africa and there are other programs that accept nurses seeking post-graduate degrees with specialty training in genetics. One program offers a PhD in human genetics with a focus in genetic counseling and others are planning similar programs.

Recommended High School CoursesBiology, Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Foreign Language, Sociology and Anthropology

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsPsychology, Sociology and Anthropology, Therapy and Counseling, Biology

Certification and LicensingCertification is not currently required to be a practicing genetic counselor, however the majority of counselors practicing today are board certified. Licensure is becoming available in a growing number of states and is often dependent upon board certification.

Board certification to become a Certified Genetic Counselor (CGC) is available through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Requirements include documentation of the following: a graduate degree in genetic counseling from an accredited program; clinical experience in an ABGC-approved training site or sites; a log book of 50 supervised cases; and successful completion of both the general and specialty certification examination.
Certification is valid for 10 years. Recertification after 10 years is made possible through reexamination or the collection of continuing education units (CEUs).

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
SocialInvolves working and communicating with, helping, and teaching people.

Work Values
AchievementGet a feeling of accomplishment.
VarietyDo something different every day.
Social ServiceDo things for other people.
ResponsibilityMake decisions on your own.

Social PerceptivenessBe aware of others' reactions and understand why they react the way they do.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Time ManagementManage one's own time and the time of others.
Judgment and Decision MakingBe able to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a potential action.
CoordinationAdjust actions in relation to others' actions.
SpeakingTalk to others to effectively convey information.

Oral ExpressionAble to convey information and ideas through speech in ways that others will understand.
Written ComprehensionAble to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
Speech ClarityAble to speak clearly so listeners understand.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Written ExpressionAble to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.
Oral ComprehensionAble to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

More Information
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Job OutlookGenetic counselors are employed in a growing number or professional settings including hospitals, universities, private practices, research and commercial labs, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

The future of the genetic counseling profession is strengthened by advances in genomics, including the completion of the Human Genome Project. The expansion of genomic medicine demands experts who can assess and communicate health risks and assist healthcare professionals and patients with decision-making regarding testing and treatment options. Genetic counselors are ideally equipped to respond to these demands and will be a primary resource as society adapts to the changes brought about by this new scientific era.

Nationwide, genetic counselors serve over 1.2 million clinical and professional clients each year. From the year 2000 to 2004, the number of patients seen by practicing genetic counselors increased by 5% annually. As the field of genetics continues to revolutionize medicine, the number of patients interacting with genetic counselors is expected to grow exponentially. The need for qualified genetic professionals will therefore increase accordingly, creating a greater demand for the employment of genetic counselors.

More InformationNational Society of Genetic Counselors, American Board of Genetic Counseling, Inc.

ReferencesNational Society of Genetic Counselors,

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