What Are The Academic Requirements?
Certified genetic counselors are masters prepared graduates who have completed an American Counsel for Genetic Counselors (ACGC) academic program. These programs, typically, are two years in length and involve classroom studies, clinical rotations and research projects. Clinical rotations may start early in the program to allow students to be exposed to genetic counseling sessions conducted by a certified genetic counselor; and, many schools also include rotations in laboratory settings.
To be certified, graduates of a genetic counseling program, sit for the American Board on Genetic Counseling (ABGC) exam. Some states may require licensure to practice.
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Are There Prerequisites To Enter A GC Program?
That will depend on your school; but, in general, it's helpful if your baccalaureate degree in basic sciences, biochemistry, genetics or biology. However, a science major isn't the only academic background necessary. Students who hold degrees in counseling, psychology or sociology or other healthcare discipline. The school website can give you specific information on prerequisites for their genetic counseling program.
What Other Skills Should I Have?
The role of a genetic counselor often transcends the science; and, requires people who are good communicators and can express compassion with their patient.
While genetics plays a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases and disorders, sometimes it's difficult for patients to hear the news. Being a calm and understanding presence often goes a long way in helping the patient, or family, understand the information being given to them.
Genetic counselors are required to obtain as complete a family history as possible in order to determine familial risk factors. Good interpersonal communication skills are necessary to as full a history as possible in order to determine the appropriate testing. Having a good report with the patient/family allows for the most accurate portrait of a medical history.
Critical Thinking and Decision Making Skills
Genetic counselors are called on to determine, based on patient analyze genetic risks and complex laboratory findings and apply those findings to best advise the patient of the results. The ability to translate findings in a way the patient or family can understand is a key component to a successful outcome.
Let's look at example: A young couple comes in with their infant who is failing to thrive. Doctors can't find anything physically wrong, but the baby isn't putting on weight at a normal rate. You order blood tests to find the cause; and, determined the child has a metabolic disorder that inhibits the baby's ability to absorb nutrients.
Your task is to explain the disorder in a manner that nervous and distraught parents can comprehend; and, to describe what nutritional steps can be taken to help. Being able to walk the parents through the diagnosis, treatment and nutritionist referral, in a reassuring manner is critical in getting the best care for the baby.
If you have these qualities, and an interest in science and research, genetic counseling may very well be the perfect profession for you.