What are the Requirements for Genetic Counselor Certification?

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:

  • Helping clients understand and accept genetic disease/disorder diagnoses
  • Interpreting test results
  • Analyzing genetic patterns and risks
  • Counseling clients on available treatment options
  • Educating the public on various genetic disorders/diseases, and genetic tests
  • Diagnosing genetic disorders/diseases, during pregnancy (i.e. birth defects)
  • Treating and preventing genetic-related pregnancy issues (i.e. miscarriages and infertility)
  • Developing detailed consultation reports that provide data on complex genetic concepts
  • Interviewing clients on their medical histories, and documenting the findings
  • Joining professional organizations, and/or attending genetic testing conferences to keep abreast of new genetics and genomics developments

How Much Does a Certified Genetic Counselor Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a certified genetic counselor can expect to earn approximately $67,500, per year, as of May 2014. Counselors in the lower 10% and the upper 10% earn approximately $43,950 and $99,980 respectively.

What are the Opportunities for Advancement for a Certified Counselor?

The career outlook for genetic counseling jobs is mostly favorable. These credentialed genetic counselors are likely to experience continuous genetic testing innovations that cause multiple openings in the field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of genetic counseling is expected to increase approximately 41% by the year 2022.

Although this is positive growth, the field is so small that this “growth” will only result in the creation of approximately 900 to 1,000 new genetic counseling jobs, over the next decade (bls.gov). As mentioned previously, continuous technological inventions like: genomics-related developments (i.e. cancer genomics), and genetics testing may boost the need for certified genetics counselors. Cancer genomics are tests that are used to help clients determine if they are at-risk for certain genetic-linked cancers. As more and more individuals become aware of the benefits of genetic testing, the need for certified genetic counselors is expected increase.

Related Reading

References

  • American Board of Genetic Counselors. (2104). Certification. Retrieved from http://www.abgc.net/Certification/certification.asp
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Genetic counselors. Occupational Employment Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes299092.htm
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Genetic counselors. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm#tab-1
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