How to Become a Genetic Counselor


The field of genetic counseling falls under the category of medical and health care. It is a niche field where the objective of the genetic counselor is to provide support, options and management care to patients who are at risk of inheriting a disorder.

At times people can inherit a condition or a disorder as it is passed on from their ancestors simply because it is in their blood line. What genetic counselors do is that they help patients cope with the disorder depending on its nature and severity. It is a job that requires a great deal of responsibility and care as the future of individuals and families is in question. If you feel you have what it takes to help patients and families through the transition and management of a genetic disorder, then you should strive to become a genetic counselor.

Education Requirements

As with nearly all fields of medicine and healthcare, what gets the greatest weightage is a candidate’s education background. This is because a minimum level of excellence is expected from candidates. To enter the field of genetic counseling, it is required of the candidate to possess a master’s degree in genetic counseling. The master’s program must be recognized by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (

Depending on the employer and the state in which you wish to practice in, you may require a certification and/or a licensure. The American Board of Genetic Counseling provides students with a certification program which usually entails an exam towards the end. The National Society for Genetic Counselors ( can provide information on licensure for budding genetic counselors. Licensure may be necessary depending on states laws.

Certification and licensure can give candidates a much needed competitive edge when looking for jobs. Employers may see a certified and licensed candidate as one who has successfully attained the industry standard for academic excellence and competence.

Job Duties

The job duties of a genetic counselor vary depending on the type of setting, industry standards, organizational policies and level of experience. Broadly speaking, genetic counselors work in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, medical universities and labs. Listed below are a general set of job duties that you may face in your career as a genetic counselor.

  1. Identify potential disorders through running of diagnostic tests. Look for known genetic markers and indicators
  2. Careful study patient histories that lead back to a few generations. This can give you clues as to future indicators.
  3. Interpret family history information to assess the probability of a disease occurring
  4. Using tried and tested scientific methods, conduct genetic testing on patients to look for recognized and known markers that may affect a patient or their family in the future
  5. Perform a series of genetic risk calculations that determine the chances of acquiring a disorder or transmitting it
  6. Spend time discussing with patients and families the potential health risks associated with a genetic disorder
  7. Be a form of psychological and emotional support to patients who have been tested positive with a genetic disorder
  8. Give patients and families educated options on what plan of action to take to avoid a disorder or to deal with an inherited disease
  9. Stay up to date with the latest research and discoveries pertaining to genetics and health. It is important to possess the most recent information
  10. Follow up with patients and families so that you can monitor their progress.
  11. Archive information by maintaining files on patients. That is valuable data that can be used for research

Career Outlook

It was forecasted by the U.S Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network that the growth in the number of jobs for genetic counselors was between 14% and 19% for the years between 2008 and 2018. This increase in jobs for genetic counselors can be explained by a number of reasons.

Firstly, due to the advancement in science and technology in the medical field, doctors and scientists are able to catch a disease or disorder in its infant stages or even before its formation. This allows for preventive measures to be taken in order to either completely stop the disorder from occurring or help manage its transmission. Secondly, due to an increase in public awareness of preventive medicine and preventive healthcare, it has taken an active interest in screening and diagnosing of genetic disorders for the future generation.

These factors have contributed to an increase in the employment forecast for genetic counselors.

Salary Prospects

According the statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the average annual salary for genetic counselors in May 2012 was $55,820 which roughly translates to $26.84 on an hourly basis. Furthermore, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors (, the medial salary for genetic counselors is roughly $63,000.

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