The work of a genetic counselor encompasses several skill levels, ranging from an understanding of basic science, laboratory values, interpersonal communication, compassion and counseling. Genetic counselors are master prepared, licensed and successfully pass the American Board of Genetics Counselors exam.
The Primary Function Of A Genetic Counselor
One of the primary functions of a genetic counselor is to take complete and thorough family histories. This is to guide the counselor to potential genetic traits that may affect a patient's diagnosis and treatment. Taking that information, genetic counselors may order blood work to determine specific genetic markers. Working with the laboratory, the genetic counselor will assess the information and determine patient risk factors for discussion with the patient and his/her physician.
Once family history and blood work are complete, the genetic counselor reviews the information and provides patients and families with the information and educates the patient on the findings. This discussion may include detailing risk factors, family history, prevention measures or resources to address the genetic issue. Genetic counselors provide families and physicians with information to make informed decisions on risk, management, prevention and research on genetic counseling. The ability to clearly communicate complex information is a vital key to effectively educate patients.
With Whom Do Genetic Counselors Work?
Genetic counselors work with a variety of parents, families, children, teenagers and older adults to identify diseases or disorders that may be inherited. Counselors also work closely with laboratory personnel to interpret tests and providing detailed reports to physicians or other caregivers. Counselors are available for patients to help make decisions and support during treatment options.
What Training Do Genetic Counselors Need?
The vast majority of genetic counselors have Master of Science in Genetic Counseling degrees from American Counsel of Genetic Counselors (ACGC) accredited programs. Typically, these are two year, fulltime educational programs that include both classroom lectures and clinical rotations. Many schools recommend (or require) students pursuing a MSGC degree have a background in basic sciences, biology, genetics, biochemistry, etc. All schools require a baccalaureate degree for admission.
Many schools begin students in clinical rotations in their first year of study. These rotations may be in a variety of settings ranging from hospitals, clinics or public health agencies. Students are paired with working, professional genetic counselors to learn clinical skills and processes.
Because research is such a key component in genetics, students may be required to identify and complete a research project that culminates in a thesis.
Where Can I Find Genetic Counselor Programs?
Best Medical Degrees has provided a ranking of Most Affordable Genetic Counseling Programs that will provide you with a starting point. Our ranking looked at estimated tuition cost, accreditation, program length and any national rankings (such as U.S. News and World Report) that may influence your decision.
The National Society of Genetics Counseling offers information on genetic counseling which may provide you with additional career information.