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Genetic Counselor: Education and Career Information

Genetics is a very important part of the healthcare profession. Being able to work in this field requires extensive education and experience in order to work with others in counseling them on how genetic testing can assist with certain medical fact-finding or interpretations. This field is quickly expanding due to new innovations and knowledge about genetics and how much can be learned through testing. Genetic counselors come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. This can be a very lucrative career choice.

What does a genetic counselor do?

A genetic counselor works with families and individuals in helping them understand what may take place when considering genetic testing or the interpretation of information. This helps the process move along and assists in answering any questions of a medical or psychological nature. They evaluate data and medical histories, and work with other members of the healthcare team in assessing risks and challenges. A genetic counselor also preps the family or individual for the outcome or results. Genetic counselors help explain familial histories to assess and determine certain conditions; provides education and research about inherent traits, prevention, resources and how to adapt to conditions that may be genetically related. You will find genetic counselors in laboratory, research or clinical settings, including colleges and universities.

How much does a genetic counselor earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a genetic counselor’s salary is largely determined by the state and locale where they work, their level of education and the experience they have. The average annual salary for a genetic counselor is $67,599, but can go well over $100,000 per year.

What types of skills must a genetic counselor have?

A genetic counselor must have a diverse skill set to be successful in this occupation. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, there are a few core skills needed:

•A deep and broad knowledge of genetics
•The ability to tailor, translate and communicate complex information in a simple, relevant way for a broad range of services
•Strong interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness
•The ability to dissect and analyze a complex problem
•Research skills
•In-depth knowledge of healthcare delivery

Additional skills include:

Navigating organizational politics and culture: When working with patients and management, being able to navigate through certain situations is key. You must also have enough tact and compassion to deal with different cultures and their methods of comprehension.

Supervisory experience: You must be able to supervise certain tasks and be able to delegate to individuals to move the process forward.

Budget management: You must have a good grasp of budgeting and must understand how to keep costs within the budget for all your needs.

Marketing: Being able to market your services and that of your organization is important in attracting your target audience.

Proposal writing: When working in a research capacity, you must be able to write proposals for grant funding, and for other departmental agencies to get on board.

Time management: You must be cognizant of time and be able to juggle numerous projects and clients at one time. You must also be able to meet deadlines in a timely manner.

Persuasion: You must be able to persuade clients and other healthcare team members on items that are sensitive, but make the most sense. Being able to get everyone on the same page is crucial.

Critical thinking: A person in this position must be able to think critically enough to provide the right information to patients and their families. They must also be able to think critically enough to work with other members of the healthcare team in deciding the right course of action.

Judgment and decision making skills: Someone in this position must have good judgment and decision-making skills to make informed and useful decision that will benefit the clients and families. Being able to make the right decisions based on research and the anticipated results from the entire healthcare team is essential.

Reading comprehension: Being proficient in reading and comprehending different types of information and data is a crucial part of the job. The person in this position must be able to read and process information on a number of levels.

Internship Requirements

To become a genetic counselor, there is a rigorous educational component involved. Once a person has received their degree, genetic counselors will work under supervision. Most graduate degree programs have an internship component, but it varies based on the program. There may also be some hours required before coming licensed.

Education Requirements

Becoming a genetic counselor takes a lot of education. The first step toward this career path is to enroll into a bachelor’s degree program in biology or a healthcare-related field. There is a lot of science and math involved, including coursework in genetics, biochemistry and statistics.

Once the bachelor’s degree has been obtained, it will be necessary to enroll into a master’s degree program in genetic counseling. The coursework for this program includes human genetics, counseling, research and lab work. Some type of counseling through an internship may be required prior to acceptance into this program.

After the master’s degree has been completed, it is highly recommended to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC). It is not required in all states, but would be a favorable addition to any resume even if it is not required. Requirements for this certification include completion of a graduate degree program in genetic counseling, and passing a written exam. Once the individual has become certified and licensed, there are numerous continuing education opportunities available to maintain the certification.

If you consider becoming a genetic counselor as a career path, you will have a number of opportunities to work with others. This could be a very lucrative opportunity that has a number of rewards, especially if you choose to continue pursuing higher education.

Counseling Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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