How to become a genetic counselor

How to become a genetic counselor

Genetic Counselors

assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. Provide information to other healthcare providers or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions. Advise individuals and families to support informed decisionmaking and coping methods for those at risk. May help conduct research related to genetic conditions or genetic counseling.

Table of contents

Aspiring Genetic Counselors typically need a Master’s degree to pursue this career. Genetic Counselors often earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Genetics and a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling.

Many states and most employers require Genetic Counselors to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Featured Schools

Genetic Counselors Requirements

Step 1: Excel at Science in High School

The first step in becoming a Genetic Counselor is to explore the biological sciences. High school students should take science courses each year instead of stopping after meeting their state’s science requirements.

Most states require high school students to complete Biology and two additional science courses. After completing the required science credits, take the highest level of science available to enhance your college applications. You may complete Chemistry, Physics, or advanced placement (AP) science courses.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Before earning a degree in Genetic Counseling, you need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. When selecting a Bachelor’s program, ensure that it fulfills the entry requirements for your preferred Master’s program. You may need to complete specific coursework during your undergraduate studies.

Some Master’s programs require applicants to complete undergraduate courses in Biochemistry, Statistics, and Advanced Genetics. Most Master’s programs do not require a specific major. However, aspiring Genetic Counselors typically major in a biological science such as Genetics, Biology, or Biochemistry.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

Becoming a board-certified Genetic Counselor requires you to earn a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling or Genetics. Most Masters of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling programs are two years in length.

Master’s programs contain a combination of classroom learning, clinical internships, and fieldwork. Internships and fieldwork provide hands-on training in clinics and hospitals. You will interact with patients and assist with diagnosing genetic issues.

During an MS program for Genetic Counseling, students learn more about genetic testing, counseling techniques, ethics, prenatal genetics, and clinical genetics. You may also explore various specializations within the Genetic Counseling field. Subspecialty areas include cardiology, neurology, hematology, pediatrics, cancer, and obstetrics.

The Master’s program that you complete should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). There are about 40 ACGC-accredited programs in North America. If the program is not accredited, you may not qualify for board certification.

Step 4: Become a Board-Certified Genetic Counselor

About half of the states in the US require Genetic Counselors to become licensed. The licensing requirements vary but you typically need to obtain certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Even if your state does not require licensing, employers typically prefer to hire board-certified Genetic Counselors.

Becoming certified requires you to pass an exam. The exam is computer-based and administered at an approved testing center. You have four hours to complete 200 multiple choice questions, including 170 scored questions. You need to answer a minimum of 125 questions correctly to pass the exam.

Step 5: Apply for Genetic Counseling Positions

After earning your certification, start looking for Genetic Counseling positions. About 43% of Genetic Counselors typically work in hospitals. Other common employers include physician offices, medical labs, outpatient care centers, and universities.

Genetic Counseling is a relatively new field compared to other healthcare professions and is more in demand in certain regions. As of 2019, a total of 2600 Genetic Counselor jobs existed in the US.

If you cannot find employment in your home state, you may need to consider relocating. Some of the states with the highest employment opportunities for Genetic Counselors include Washington, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Step 6: Continue Your Education

To maintain your Genetic Counseling certification, you need to complete certain continuing education requirements. The ABGC requires Genetic Counselors to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every five years. You may also take an exam as an alternative to completing CEUs.

Certified Genetic Counselors are called “Diplomates” by the ABGC. Each Diplomate is responsible for recertification within the allotted time frame. You must also maintain your contact information and keep current with the latest ABGC policies and regulations.

What degree do most Genetic Counselors have

We did a survey to ask other Genetic Counselors what degree they had when they first became one. Here are the results.

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Click here for 2021 shadowing opportunities

Genetic counseling is a highly controversial medical career which relies on advances in medical technology and genetic testing to help people make lifestyle and health-related decisions. If you want to be involved in a medical profession that supports families during a tough decision-making process and you have the capacity to be sensitive and decisive during a critical period in a patient’s life, then a career as a genetic counselor may be right for you!

Training and education needed to become a genetic counselor

The education and training needed to pursue a career as a genetic counselor is not as rigorous as that of becoming a board-certified physician, but you should expect to spend up to six years in college: four years at the undergraduate level and an additional two at the graduate level. Genetic counselors must have a Master’s degree to practice. While it typically does not matter which major you pursue at the undergraduate level, you must pursue a Master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling to become a board-certified genetic counselor through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. There are only 31 programs in the US that offer such a career path. You’ll take classes in biology, epidemiology, genetics, public health, and genetics as a part of any program. You’ll need to decide on a specialization within genetic counseling – pediatric, prenatal, and cancer are among your choices of specialization. Settling on a specialization within genetic counseling will make your job search that much easier, as you will have an area of focus.

Duties and responsibilities of a genetic counselor

Genetic counseling involves a significant amount of client interaction, so it is imperative that you are a compassionate professional who can explain medical terminology in layman’s terms so that your clients understand the full scope of their individual situations. You’ll work with couples, families, and individuals, so you’ll need the ability to communicate with groups and in one-on-one settings. Clients rely on you to recommend the appropriate testing to help them make medical decisions. For example, couples planning to have children may want to know whether they will pass inherited diseases onto their offspring, so you’ll need to take a family history and make the necessary test recommendations. Individuals at risk for certain diseases, such as cancer, will depend upon you to explain genetic test results in a sensitive and compassionate manner, since thinking about future medical problems can be a traumatic experience. Your ability to communicate effectively and clearly is key, as you’ll be interpreting lab diagnostic results and making recommendations to clients who may be sensitive about receiving bad news.

Salaries and employment outlook for genetic counselors

Genetics counselors are rare in the medical profession, with under 2,500 counselors currently practicing in the US. Because this career path is new and cutting-edge, it is expected to have a positive employment outlook, growing faster than most other careers as awareness about the benefits of genetic counseling grows and families become empowered to manage their own health outcomes. For your compassionate work counseling families and couples about genetic health, you can expect to earn an average salary of $69,000. The more education you have earned beyond your Master’s degree, the higher your salary will be.

Genetic counseling was once a thing of science fiction. Technology has advanced so that science fiction has become science fact. You can make a difference in the lives of patients by becoming a genetic counselor!

How to become a genetic counselor

Genetic Counselors

assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. Provide information to other healthcare providers or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions. Advise individuals and families to support informed decisionmaking and coping methods for those at risk. May help conduct research related to genetic conditions or genetic counseling.

Table of contents

Aspiring Genetic Counselors typically need a Master’s degree to pursue this career. Genetic Counselors often earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Genetics and a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling.

Many states and most employers require Genetic Counselors to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Featured Schools

Genetic Counselors Requirements

Step 1: Excel at Science in High School

The first step in becoming a Genetic Counselor is to explore the biological sciences. High school students should take science courses each year instead of stopping after meeting their state’s science requirements.

Most states require high school students to complete Biology and two additional science courses. After completing the required science credits, take the highest level of science available to enhance your college applications. You may complete Chemistry, Physics, or advanced placement (AP) science courses.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Before earning a degree in Genetic Counseling, you need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. When selecting a Bachelor’s program, ensure that it fulfills the entry requirements for your preferred Master’s program. You may need to complete specific coursework during your undergraduate studies.

Some Master’s programs require applicants to complete undergraduate courses in Biochemistry, Statistics, and Advanced Genetics. Most Master’s programs do not require a specific major. However, aspiring Genetic Counselors typically major in a biological science such as Genetics, Biology, or Biochemistry.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

Becoming a board-certified Genetic Counselor requires you to earn a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling or Genetics. Most Masters of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling programs are two years in length.

Master’s programs contain a combination of classroom learning, clinical internships, and fieldwork. Internships and fieldwork provide hands-on training in clinics and hospitals. You will interact with patients and assist with diagnosing genetic issues.

During an MS program for Genetic Counseling, students learn more about genetic testing, counseling techniques, ethics, prenatal genetics, and clinical genetics. You may also explore various specializations within the Genetic Counseling field. Subspecialty areas include cardiology, neurology, hematology, pediatrics, cancer, and obstetrics.

The Master’s program that you complete should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). There are about 40 ACGC-accredited programs in North America. If the program is not accredited, you may not qualify for board certification.

Step 4: Become a Board-Certified Genetic Counselor

About half of the states in the US require Genetic Counselors to become licensed. The licensing requirements vary but you typically need to obtain certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Even if your state does not require licensing, employers typically prefer to hire board-certified Genetic Counselors.

Becoming certified requires you to pass an exam. The exam is computer-based and administered at an approved testing center. You have four hours to complete 200 multiple choice questions, including 170 scored questions. You need to answer a minimum of 125 questions correctly to pass the exam.

Step 5: Apply for Genetic Counseling Positions

After earning your certification, start looking for Genetic Counseling positions. About 43% of Genetic Counselors typically work in hospitals. Other common employers include physician offices, medical labs, outpatient care centers, and universities.

Genetic Counseling is a relatively new field compared to other healthcare professions and is more in demand in certain regions. As of 2019, a total of 2600 Genetic Counselor jobs existed in the US.

If you cannot find employment in your home state, you may need to consider relocating. Some of the states with the highest employment opportunities for Genetic Counselors include Washington, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Step 6: Continue Your Education

To maintain your Genetic Counseling certification, you need to complete certain continuing education requirements. The ABGC requires Genetic Counselors to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every five years. You may also take an exam as an alternative to completing CEUs.

Certified Genetic Counselors are called “Diplomates” by the ABGC. Each Diplomate is responsible for recertification within the allotted time frame. You must also maintain your contact information and keep current with the latest ABGC policies and regulations.

What degree do most Genetic Counselors have

We did a survey to ask other Genetic Counselors what degree they had when they first became one. Here are the results.

Is becoming a genetic counselor right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

Still unsure if becoming a genetic counselor is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer career test to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a genetic counselor or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

How to become a Genetic Counselor

A bachelor’s degree in biology or a healthcare-related field typically is a requirement for enrolling in a genetic counseling master’s degree program. These programs provide students with the science and math knowledge needed for a career in genetic counseling. Some schools offer internships or summer programs for students interested in genetic counseling. These programs provide students with a chance to gain experience at clinics or hospitals and prepare them for a graduate degree program.

A master’s degree in genetic counseling helps students develop the skills needed to research, counsel and consult with patients, their families and members of the healthcare community to provide information on genetic conditions. Some schools require applicants to have performed some type of counseling work.

The American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC) offers a certification program, which is voluntary; however, some states require it for licensing, and some employers prefer it. In addition, some states require genetic counselors to become licensed before performing work with the public. ABGC certification can serve as proof of competency and give job candidates an edge in employment.

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Click here for 2021 shadowing opportunities

Genetic counseling is a highly controversial medical career which relies on advances in medical technology and genetic testing to help people make lifestyle and health-related decisions. If you want to be involved in a medical profession that supports families during a tough decision-making process and you have the capacity to be sensitive and decisive during a critical period in a patient’s life, then a career as a genetic counselor may be right for you!

Training and education needed to become a genetic counselor

The education and training needed to pursue a career as a genetic counselor is not as rigorous as that of becoming a board-certified physician, but you should expect to spend up to six years in college: four years at the undergraduate level and an additional two at the graduate level. Genetic counselors must have a Master’s degree to practice. While it typically does not matter which major you pursue at the undergraduate level, you must pursue a Master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling to become a board-certified genetic counselor through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. There are only 31 programs in the US that offer such a career path. You’ll take classes in biology, epidemiology, genetics, public health, and genetics as a part of any program. You’ll need to decide on a specialization within genetic counseling – pediatric, prenatal, and cancer are among your choices of specialization. Settling on a specialization within genetic counseling will make your job search that much easier, as you will have an area of focus.

Duties and responsibilities of a genetic counselor

Genetic counseling involves a significant amount of client interaction, so it is imperative that you are a compassionate professional who can explain medical terminology in layman’s terms so that your clients understand the full scope of their individual situations. You’ll work with couples, families, and individuals, so you’ll need the ability to communicate with groups and in one-on-one settings. Clients rely on you to recommend the appropriate testing to help them make medical decisions. For example, couples planning to have children may want to know whether they will pass inherited diseases onto their offspring, so you’ll need to take a family history and make the necessary test recommendations. Individuals at risk for certain diseases, such as cancer, will depend upon you to explain genetic test results in a sensitive and compassionate manner, since thinking about future medical problems can be a traumatic experience. Your ability to communicate effectively and clearly is key, as you’ll be interpreting lab diagnostic results and making recommendations to clients who may be sensitive about receiving bad news.

Salaries and employment outlook for genetic counselors

Genetics counselors are rare in the medical profession, with under 2,500 counselors currently practicing in the US. Because this career path is new and cutting-edge, it is expected to have a positive employment outlook, growing faster than most other careers as awareness about the benefits of genetic counseling grows and families become empowered to manage their own health outcomes. For your compassionate work counseling families and couples about genetic health, you can expect to earn an average salary of $69,000. The more education you have earned beyond your Master’s degree, the higher your salary will be.

Genetic counseling was once a thing of science fiction. Technology has advanced so that science fiction has become science fact. You can make a difference in the lives of patients by becoming a genetic counselor!

How to become a genetic counselor

Table of Contents

  • What Is a Genetic Counselor?
  • How to Become a Genetic Counselor
  • Where Do Genetic Counselors Work?
  • What Tools Do Genetic Counselors Use?

What Is a Genetic Counselor?

How to Become a Genetic Counselor

Where Do Genetic Counselors Work?

What Tools Do Genetic Counselors Use?

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  2. Genetic Counselor Jobs
  3. What Is a Genetic Counselor and How to Become One

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The Basics

A genetic counselor is a medical professional that helps clients find out if someone in their family (including themselves) is pre-disposed towards a genetic disorder or disease. In other words, this professional runs gene/chromosomal tests on clients to see if they are at-risk for developing a genetic health condition (i.e. diabetes, lupus, sickle cell anemia, depression, schizophrenia, etc.). What is a certified genetic counselor? A certified genetic counselor is similar to a genetic counselor, except that the certified counselor has successfully passed his/her certification exam(s), and fulfilled all certification requirements.

These medical professionals seek certification as a way to reassure clients that they are trained, and qualified in the field of genetic counseling. This field is especially beneficially, if you like working with diverse people, helping people accept certain diagnoses, and providing support for people as they navigate through challenging waters. If you have an interest in genetics and genetic diseases/disorders, and would like more information on genetic counselor certification, you have come to the right place. This article will provide the information you need.

What are the Requirements for Genetic Counselor Certification?

Educational

To become a certified genetic counselor, you will first need to graduate from high school or obtain a GED. You will next need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most individuals that are interested in genetic counseling earn an undergraduate degree in medical sciences, psychology or healthcare. However, a bachelor’s degree in these areas is not mandatory for enrolling in an accredited genetic counseling master’s degree program. If possible try to maintain at least a 3.5 GPA throughout your college education.

Once you have entered a master’s degree genetic counseling program, you will complete a combination of coursework and clinical hours in a genetics field (supervised internship).

Some of the courses that you will take during your master’s genetic counseling program may include:

  • Genetic Diagnoses
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Bio-Statistics
  • Metabolic Genetics
  • Cancer Genetic Counseling
  • Genetics and Ethics
  • Counseling Techniques
  • Clinical Rotations (Internships)

Certification

Although genetic counseling certification is not required, most employers prefer genetic counselors that are certified in the field. To become certified as a genetic counselor, you will need to pass the certification exam (administered by the American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC)), and pass all certification requirements (i.e. ABGC accredited training program and clinical experience). The certification exam typically focuses on the following topics: risk diagnosis, psycho-social support, grief counseling, case histories, genetic testing, genetic ethics, and legal genetic issues.

What are Responsibilities of a Certified Genetic Counselor?

As a certified genetic counselor, you will most likely work at a: private and public hospital, university medical center, doctor’s office, or diagnostic laboratory. You may work with a variety of clients (i.e. individuals and families) and medical professionals (i.e. nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians).

As a certified genetic counselor, you may perform the following job duties:

How to become a genetic counselor

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (4 Years)

Aspiring genetic counselors must complete master’s degree in a science-intensive field, such as a premed program, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry.

These programs provides students with the scientific and mathematical knowledge necessary for success.

The preparation timeline below provides an example premed curriculum:

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

In order to be accepted into a graduate program, students must pass the Graduate Requisite Examination (GRE) with a sufficient score to be accepted into the school they’re interested in.

The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:

3. Earn a Master’s Degree (2 Years)

Completing a master’s degree in genetic counseling at a properly accredited university is essential. Topics of study include molecular genetics, cytogenetics, ethics, counseling, and both clinical and population genetics.

Candidates should ensure that all courses and programs have Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) accreditation.

The preparation timeline below provides an example graduate genetic counseling curriculum:

4. Earn the Certification (Optional)

Once the counselor earns a degree, the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) offers an exam which confirms the student as a certified genetic counselor.

Becoming certified is not a requirement to enter the field but does typically lead to more opportunities and an edge in the hiring process. However, a certification speaks to the individual’s authority and trustworthiness on the subject, so earning one is highly advisable. 5

5. Earn the Required License

Many states require counselors to become licensed before beginning to practice. Genetic counselors should check their state and local registration.