How do I become a Genetic Counselor?

 How do I become a Genetic Counselor?

How do I become a Genetic Counselor?

genetic-counseling

While genetic counselors deal with stressful situations (educating patients on their chances of inheriting a genetic disorder or disease), they offer patients factual information and potentially life-saving advice. They also advise patients on the best way to handle such conditions emotionally and physically. They test patients for disorders, and if the patient tests positive, the genetic counselor will provide counseling services, not just for the patient, but for the patient’s family too.

To become a genetic counselor, the candidate must have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Most genetic counselors must also obtain a license or certification for their specified field.

Counselors are not limited to genetics. Many counselors in this position are trained in other areas, like oncology, pediatrics, prenatal care or neurology, giving them a leg up on their peers and a higher knowledge base in their field.

They combine their basic scientific knowledge with these fields and fuse them with their knowledge of medical genetics, risk assessment, interpersonal communication and counseling skills in order to help patients and family members make the most educated decisions with their health. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Definition Task Force, genetic counselors help patients “…understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.” The process of genetic counseling “… integrates the following: Interpretation of family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence. Education about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research. Counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition.”

While many counselors opt to go into one of these fields, a counselor might also choose to become an administrator, researcher or teacher. The field is growing and has seen a 400% increase in genetic counselors since 1992.

Educational Requirements and Processes for Genetic Counselors

Educational Requirements and Processes for Genetic Counselors

The career path for the genetic counselor is a long and arduous one. Counselors must obtain a master’s degree before they can enter the job field.

The first step to becoming a genetic counselor is to get a bachelor’s degree in biology or healthcare. Most genetic counselors, who go on to enter the master’s program, have obtained a bachelor’s degree in one of these fields. Students are armed with the right knowledge in math and science to create a foundation for statistics and biochemistry. Students should also take classes in biochemistry, genetics and statists to prepare themselves for their master’s degree.

Though not mandatory, many counselors opt to apply for an internship in genetic counseling during their bachelor’s degree coursework that will help them prepare for the graduate program and give them a better understanding of the day-to-day activities of a counselor. Internships are available at hospitals and clinics, and counselors who complete internships find themselves more prepared for life after they’ve completed their bachelor’s degree. Many candidates also choose to complete volunteer work in this field too. Many master’s degree programs require students to have completed this type of course work to be considered for the higher learning program.

After the student has earned his or her bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree is the next step toward a career in genetic counseling. During this program, students will take classes in lab work, counseling, genetics and research. In this field, students must be prepared to be able to counsel patients in addition to reading test results and performing research.

Once a student has completed his or her bachelor’s and master’s degree, certification must be sought and can be obtained through the American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC). While the certification is up to the student’s discretion, many states now require the completed certification test in order for the candidate to obtain a license. Many hospitals and clinics will give preference to candidate who have passed this test. The test includes a written exam and the completion of a degree program. This certification can also help prospective candidates get a leg up into the field.

Once the graduate has been certified, he or she can seek licensing from the state in which the counseling will be performed. A candidate must prove his or her degree and certification. The degree must be obtained from an ABGC-accredited school.

Genetic counselors can enter the work field in lower level positions that allow them to work under the guidance of trained professionals. Skills that the trainer will assess include the ability to provide counseling to patients in a high-stress environment. Once the counselor has gained enough experience, he or she can begin working independently.

Listing of Career Opportunities for Genetic Counselors

Listing of Career Opportunities for Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors have a large range of job opportunities in the medical field. It is common for counselors to work in teaching universities; however, many also work in private practices. They can also work in other environments, like laboratory, administrative and teaching positions. A few examples of genetic counseling include prenatal, pediatrics, oncology and neurology.

Prenatal counselors generally deal with genetic abnormalities of a fetus or of the parents before conception. To do this, prenatal genetic counselors obtain information about fetal abnormalities, including possible risks. They also examine further tests, including gaining information on birth defects and genetic conditions, as well as amoralities in chromosomes. They coordinate genetic testing and gather test results and disperse informational materials to patients.

Pediatric prenatal counselors deal with genetic abnormalities of children after the time of birth, including birth defects, Down Syndrome, metabolism errors, abnormal screening results, metabolic disorders, skeletal dysplasia, genetic syndromes, adult genetic conditions (in relation to the child), craniofacial defects and DiGeorge Syndrom. They also deal with counseling issues with the parents and advise parents on genetic risks. Pediatric counselors perform tests and interpret test results for the families and other doctors.

Genetic counselors also often work in oncology and deal with how genetics affects cancer patients. Questions counselors might ask their patients could find if anyone in the patient’s family has been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 50. They generally test patients and counsel them on their risk of getting cancer. They determine whether or not a patient has a high risk of a cancer gene and whether or not he or she should have a test to determine this. If the counselor believes the patient is a good candidate, a blood draw will be performed for the genetic test.

Genetic counselors can also work in neurology to determine the neurogenetic conditions many individuals face, determined by family history. They can test patients for a variety of conditions, including muscular dystrophies and myopathies, including congenital muscular dystrophies and facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. They will check for limb girdle weakness, myotonia and oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Other neuromuscular disorders can be tested for, including ALS, spinal muscular atrophies and peripheral neuropathies. They might check for hereditary movement disorders, like dystonia, spastic paraplegia, Huntington’s chorea and Parkinson’s. Genetics can also explain ptosis, facial weakness and muscle atrophy.

Genetic Counselor Careers Salary Information

Genetic Counselor Careers Salary Information

Genetic counselors generally start at $50,000 a year and may expect to earn up to $100,000, depending on the area of the country they work in. A genetic counselor working in oncology in Fayetteville, Georgia makes around $122,000 a year. A prenatal genetic counselor in New York can make around $116,000 a year. A pediatric genetic counselor will only make $95,000 a year, well below counselors in similar fields. Genetic counselors working as teachers, administrators or in other similar positions can expect to make closer to the lower end of the spectrum, depending on location and job training.

Average Daily Life of a Genetic Counselor

Average Daily Life of a Genetic Counselor

The average day of someone in this position might begin like most others—by checking voicemail and reading email. Most of these will include questions regarding tests, requests for family history, test results, research information and MRI results.

The counselor will respond to these questions after doing extensive research. Most of the day might include researching patient records. Much of the day will include researching medical conditions and prognosis. Actual clinic work will include meeting with patients, asking why they have been referred to a genetics counselor, explaining genetic inheritance and tests, providing options and advice and explaining what the next steps will be.

The counselor will consult other geneticists and hospital staff to determine what the correct course of action should entail regarding each new patient. He or she will then make appointments for tests and answer any questions the family might have.

The next step would be to meet with return patients and follow up on symptoms and tests. Counseling could include depression issues, behavior problems in kids and other support options.

The counselor would then make notes regarding each patient for the patient’s primary care physician and social service agencies. He or she will create a family tree for new patients to outline risk factors. The counselor might consult other specialists on certain diseases or syndromes. Counselors also might consult medical journals and databases to complete more extensive research on diseases and symptoms.