CAREER DEVELOPMENT / JUL. 02, 2014
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How to Become a Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors are health care professionals with Master’s degree in their respective field. They combine knowledge of medical genetics and science along with interpersonal, counseling and communication skills stemming from educating and counseling clients about their genetic condition. A counselor does this by analysing and interpreting data from medical histories to identify potential genetic risks.

Genetic counseling is a growing and rewarding profession in terms of career and personal growth, learning opportunities and latest medical developments.

What do Genetic Counselors do?

Genetic counselors work with people to give them a better understanding of the genetic contribution to their disease. As a genetic counselor, you will be trained to analyse genetic tests and counsel patients about genetic risk factors.

Your duties as a genetic counselor may include the following:

  • Interpreting medical and family histories to evaluate the chances of disease occurrence or reoccurrence
  • Educating patients about inheriting diseases
  • Informing patients about the testing procedures
  • Helping patients understand how to better manage or prevent the occurrence of a genetic disease
  • Counseling patients about treatment methods
  • Advising patients on how to adapt to the genetic risk or condition

Work Environment

As a genetic counselor, you may work at a hospital, university, private clinic or at laboratories.  Other places where you can lend your expertise are advocacy organisations, biotechnology companies, public health departments, and health maintenance organisations.

Genetic counselors work a standard 40-hour work week. The work does not entail emergency situations and hence genetic counselors do not have to work overtime or on-call.

Salary

In the year 2009, the average annual income for genetic counselors was £29,035.

O*NET Online reveals that a total of 59,000 genetic counselors were employed in 2008, according to eHow.

Education and Training

To be a genetic counselor, the candidate has to meet the employers’ requirements in terms of education and training.

To enter into this profession, you have to obtain a Master’s degree in genetic counseling. For admission, you need to have taken undergraduate courses in chemistry, biology, psychology and genetics. Regarding this, here are the two best universities you can look forward to:

  • Cardiff University
  • The University of Manchester

Genetic counseling coursework includes study of molecular genetics, research methods, prenatal diagnosis and population studies among other coursework. You will also have clinical rotations as part of the graduate program.

Specialisation in genetic counseling can be in the following fields:

  • Pediatric genetics
  • Prenatal
  • Cancer genetics
  • Neurogenetics
  • Adult genetics
  • Public health and
  • Molecular/ cytogenetic testing.

Career Development

Genetic counseling schools may recommend you to undertake paid or volunteer experience before enrolling in the graduate program. After graduate studies, you may be expected to seek certification to practice as a genetic counselor.

Although genetic counselors traditionally work in hospitals, clinics and university medical centers, some also work in pharmaceutical companies and federal health departments. As a genetic counselor, you can also work in administrative capacities. In addition, many genetic counselors also work in the fields of research and teaching.

A Promising Career

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an employment growth of 41% in the field of genetic counseling for the period 2012-2022. This makes it one of the 10 fastest growing occupations, according to About.com

Genetic counseling is a rapidly evolving field thanks to advances in genomics. Genetic counselors play a vital role in acting as liaisons between patients and doctors, with this field providing many career growth opportunities.

 

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