What is a Genetic Counselor?
A genetic counselor helps individuals to find out if they or others in their family have a genetic disease. If it is determined that the client or the client’s family has a genetic disease, then a genetic counselor’s responsibility will be to educate the client about the disease, discuss how the disease will impact the client’s life and provide support and counseling services.
Genetic counselors also asses and interpret the family’s history, educate their client on possible health risks and discuss treatment options. In addition, they may work as a part of a multidisciplinary team of physicians, registered nurses, social workers and psychologists.
Where Does a Genetic Counselor Work?
Genetic counselors are generally employed by:
- Private practices
- Nursing homes
- Physicians’ offices
- Mental health facilities
- Hospitals and healthcare centers
- Social service centers
- Psychiatric clinics
- Medical laboratories
- Academic and research institutes
What are the Requirements to Become a Genetic Counselor?
- Enroll in an undergraduate degree program at an accredited college or university. Select a major in the field of psychology, sociology, counseling, biology, genetics or chemistry. Sign up for the following courses: public health, abnormal psychology, biochemistry, genetics, sociology, anatomy, research methods and nursing.
- It is important that you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA (grade point average) every semester. Your GPA will determine what graduate schools you are admitted to and what jobs you will be offered after you graduate.
- Complete your program requirements (courses and internships) and graduate from your undergraduate degree program. Once you have received a bachelor’s degree, you will need to decide whether or not you want to pursue a master’s degree in genetic counseling.
- If you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree, then your next step will be to research accredited graduate schools that offer a graduate degree program in genetic counseling. Make sure that you also thoroughly research your state’s licensure and certification requirements.
- Once you have chosen two or three graduate programs that you would like to enroll in, you will be ready to schedule the GRE (graduate record examination). Some genetic counseling programs may require you to take the GRE in biology, chemistry and psychology. You may also be required to score in the 70th percentile or higher if you want to attend a specific program. (It is important to note that a master’s degree in genetic counseling is not required in order to work as a genetic counselor, but some employers prefer an advanced degree).
- Successfully pass the GRE test(s) and apply for admission to your chosen graduate program. Once you are admitted to the program, your next step will be to successfully complete your program’s course and internship requirements.
- Many genetic counseling programs require that you complete a 1-year counseling internship before graduate. Your internship may occur at a social service agency, hospital, private counseling practice, a physician’s office, group home, clinic, nursing home, or mental health facility.
- A genetic counseling graduate degree program may take 2-3 years to complete. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, approximately 32 American and Canadian colleges and universities offer a graduate degree program in genetic counseling.
- Once you have successfully graduated with a master’s degree in genetic counseling, you will need to decide to whether or not to seek certification. If you decide that you want certification, your next step will be to schedule the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) certification exam.
- As part of the certification process, you will need to complete 50-60 clinical counseling hours at an approved agency and successfully pass two computer-based exams (general knowledge and genetic counseling). Once you have completed your requirements and passed the exams, you will be certified as a genetic counselor.
- Once you become a certified genetic counselor, you may be able to seek employment in a variety of industries such as: genetic research, hematology, prenatal counseling, psychiatric disorders, cancer counseling and pediatric counseling.
What is the Salary of a Genetic Counselor?
According to BLS, the average salary for a genetic counselor in May 2014 was $69,540. Annual mean salary for genetic counselors working in general medical/surgical hospitals and management companies is $67,900 and $82,570 respectively.
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