What is a Genetic Counselor?

A genetic counselor is equal parts therapist and one part scientific researcher. The first step with any new patient is to comb through the family history and evaluate if a genetic test is needed, and which one would provide the most insight. If the clients decide to continue with test, a genetic counselor will coordinate the lab work and analysis, and will interpret the results to the patient. If they have a disease, genetic counselors refer patients to specialists. An important part of the job of genetic counseling is the counseling – so throughout the whole process they are providing emotional support and guidance to the patient.

The biggest question every patient needs to answer is if they even want to get the test done in the first place. Sometimes knowing can be good or bad depending on the mindset of the individual. A genetic counselor’s job is to offer information and support, whether or not they choose to get a test done.

Testing can be for lot of different reasons. Testing for inherited diseases (ex. Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease), risk factors for certain cancers (ex. BRCA I and II), or carrier status for possible inherited disorders (ex. Autism, Sickle cell disease) are all possible reasons to see a Genetic Counselor. Genetics is a continually evolving field, and as research progresses scientists are discovering new conditions that can be informed by genetics.

While each genetic counseling job is different, a clinical genetic counselor can expect it roughly to break down to 60% laboratory work and 40% counseling.

Genetic Counseling Areas:

Because genetics influence every aspect of your body, as a genetic counselor you can specialize in to different areas. Some more popular areas are:

  • Adult – for adult onset diseases, like Huntington’s Disorder
  • Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART)/Infertility – work with couples to help them conceive when they have high genetic risk factors or are an older couple
  • Cancer – work with people who have been diagnosed with cancer, or have a family member who was recently diagnosed to determine their risk profile
  • Cardiovascular – work with clients to determine if their heart rhythm disorders are inherited. Cardio is one of the newer areas of genetic counseling
  • Neurology – Genetic testing for neurodegenerative diseases
  • Ophthalmology – Diagnose genetic eye disorders and heritable causes of blindness
  • Pediatric – test for pediatric genetic conditions
  • Personalized genomics/Precision medicine – One of the newest areas of genetic counseling, working to develop precision medicine
  • Prenatal – Counsel pregnant mothers who are at high risk for genetic disorders
  • Public Health – Working on scientific policy and education of the public

The Job:

Genetic counseling is a diverse profession, and offers job opportunities in the lab, clinically, or in industry. It was rated as #7 of the top 10 most in demand Chicago jobs for 2016, and is in the Top 100 jobs from US News and World report. As a profession, it is expected to grow 29% by 2024 which is much faster than average, making this a good long-time career in the sciences.

Advance degree required: Masters degree

For more information see:

Quick Facts: Genetic Counselors

2015 Median Pay $72,090 per year
$34.66 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 2,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 29% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 700

*Table taken from Bureau of Labor Statistics website

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