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The healthcare industry is teeming with job openings and is one of the largest labor employers globally. While some jobs within this industry can be competently performed with little to no skill, this certainly cannot be said for genetic counseling.
This medical service is provided to families or individuals who are worried about hereditary diseases or have other reasons for looking into genetic testing. The number of genetic counselor jobs is expected to grow 21% by 2029, which is significantly higher than the projected 11% for other medical occupations, making genetic counseling one of the fastest-growing fields in the healthcare industry.
If this specialty seems inviting or you think you might have a flair for it, we have carefully gathered all the information about this career option that you might need. But before we go into what it’s like to be a genetic counselor, the qualifications required, average salaries, and so on, let’s start by taking a look at what exactly is it that they do.
About Genetic Counselor Jobs
What Do Genetic Counselors Do?
A genetic counselor’s job is to assess an individual’s or family’s risk of developing inherited conditions and diseases, which can include congenital disabilities and a range of genetic disorders.
They provide salient information and support, both to other healthcare professionals and to the individuals and families who are at risk of these inherited conditions. They are also responsible for investigating family medical histories, trying to cross-check and interpret the information at their disposal, and deciding whether tests are necessary.
Genetic counseling jobs are typically available in a clinic or hospital setting, where you’d mostly work with the medical laboratory technologists who perform the genetic lab tests. You’d also collaborate with doctors from other fields, like the oncologists and obstetricians, to name a few.
Genetic Counseling Job Duties
We created an in-depth list of tasks and responsibilities that are a part of the genetic counselor job description, so let’s have a look. Typically, the job involves:
- Evaluating genetic information from patients to identify individuals or families with genetic disorders.
- Interviewing patients to acquire detailed individual and family medical histories from them.
- Explaining the multitude of diagnostic procedures that are used during testing like amniocentesis, ultrasound, and chorionic villus sampling.
- Writing elaborate consultation reports for patients or other doctors trying to convey complex genetic ideas and concepts.
- Counseling patients and their families on inherited conditions and their genetic risks by providing them with information and reassurance when necessary.
- Discussing the available testing options with patients and colleagues and familiarizing them with the potential risks, benefits, and constraints of each procedure.
- Tending to patients’ emotional and psychological needs, like helping them deal with test result fears, marital problems, financial issues, and stress, while making the right recommendations and referrals, and assisting with test outcomes.
- Designing and conducting genetics training programs for graduates, physicians, and other health professionals.
- Building a flourishing genetic counseling career also requires participating in affiliated professional organizations and conferences, so as to stay in the loop regarding the latest developments in genetics and genomics.
Genetic Counselor Job Types
Genetic counseling is a broad field with a number of different subtypes. Most of the requirements for these specialized genetic counselor careers are similar, even though the tasks they’ll be focusing on differ. Let’s have a look at some of these specializations.
Cancer Genetic Counselors
Some types of cancer run in the family, which is why one of the duties of a cancer genetic counselor is to check family health history and evaluate the risk of hereditary cancer.
They also help in the screening and management of high-risk individuals. The requirements are generally the same for those looking for a job as a genetic counselor in cancer therapy jobs, and it goes without saying that cancer genetic counselors are expected to be well versed in genetics and cancerous diseases.
Pediatric Genetic Counselors
Pediatric genetic counselors help in diagnosing gene issues in infants, children, and teenagers. They suggest treatment options and help families determine the risk of passing genetic disorders to their children.
Pediatric genetic counselor jobs are exceptionally delicate and require extensive knowledge of genetics. Professionals in this field are expected to support and counsel their patients, among other things, by translating complex concepts into simple ones, so that the kids and laypeople can easily understand them.
Cardiovascular Genetic Counselors
Genetic counselors working in cardiovascular genetics get additional training and clinical education pertaining to cardiovascular diseases. This genetic counselor position also involves working hand in hand with cardiologists and helping to assess the risk of the development of these diseases, which often have underlying familial and genetic causes.
Chromosomal Disorders Genetic Counselors
Chromosomal disorder genetic counselors typically work genetic counselor therapy jobs, helping in the integration and acceptance of children and individuals with chromosomal abnormalities. These counselors are there to talk about prenatal genetic abnormalities with the families and to discuss possible options if genetic testing shows a fetus with a chromosomal abnormality upon karyotype testing.
Genetic Counselor Nurses
Nurses can also be genetic counselors. When it comes to these genetic counselor jobs, description of their duties usually involves support for people at risk of, or already suffering from diseases that have a genetic predisposition like Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, hemophilia, etc., and helping them to achieve and maintain good health.
Genetic counselor nurses have furthered their education in genetics and genetic counseling, even after acquiring their degrees in nursing. Generally, nurses deal with the holistic approach to the treatment of patients, and genetic counselor nurse jobs are not any different.
Genetic Counselor Work Environment
Going by the statistics from 2019, genetic counselors held only 2,600 jobs in total. Most of them worked in state, local and private hospitals—43%. Some 13% worked in the offices of physicians, and 12% worked in colleges, universities, and professional schools (state, local, or private). Another 11% held genetic counselor technician jobs in medical and diagnostic laboratories, and 5% were self-employed workers. The nature of their job has them continuously interacting with people of different ages and genders, devoting a lot of time and patience to each new patient.
Injuries and Illnesses
Genetic counselors do not do a lot of physically exerting work. They are seated most of the time, examining test results and discussing possible outcomes and strategies with their patients. However, counseling people in genetics can be emotionally draining and stressful. This could predispose them to bouts of sadness, depression, and anxiety disorders.
Also, the work is very hands-on and practical, which can often cause quite a bit of stress.
Most genetic counselor positions are full-time and require a high level of commitment. They usually have a standard work schedule with 40-hour weeks, but some work more, depending on where they’re employed. They generally don’t need to work evenings or weekends.
How to Become a Genetic Counselor
To pursue a career as a genetic counselor and qualify for one of the available GC jobs, you’ll need several years of education and training. You’ll first need a bachelor’s degree, and then you’ll have to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling.
Being a genetic counselor requires people seeking such a career to have the following qualities:
- Interpersonal skills: Gene counselor jobs require a high level of communication skills. Genetic counselors constantly interact with people and must be able to simplify complicated concepts so that their patients can understand exactly what they are being told.
- Critical-thinking skills: Genetic counselors are required to be able to confidently analyze laboratory results and use them to determine the best way to advise their patients. They should be able to apply their knowledge of genetics to correctly assess the risks of inheriting genetic conditions.
- Compassion: Genetic jobs require the ability to advise patients on serious illnesses and appropriate care while being sensitive and compassionate. They need to understand their patients emotionally and be delicate when communicating their findings.
- Decision-making skills: Genetic counselors need to be able to consider the relative pros and cons of a situation and come up with the appropriate way to discuss the findings with their patients.
Genetic counselor job requirements in terms of academic qualifications dictate that, in order to build a career as a genetic counselor, you typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics from an accredited master’s program.
This means becoming a genetic counselor requires extensive education and training. You might also need to pass examinations for certification to practice as a genetic counselor.
The training for this position teaches students about inherited diseases, tests that can detect genetic issues, and the steps that can be taken to prevent or minimize the risk of genetic problems.
Jobs in genetic counseling are only available to those who successfully completed their coursework in public health, psychology, epidemiology, and developmental biology.
Clinical rotations also occur during the training, in which they work first-hand with patients in different work environments such as cancer centers, pediatric hospitals, or prenatal diagnostic centers.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Before applying for genetic counseling jobs in the US, you must be certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Being certified involves completing an accredited master’s degree program and passing an exam. And even after these, counselors have to keep completing continuing education courses in order to maintain their certifications.
Almost half of the states in the US require licensing of genetic counselors, and other states are pending with license legislatures. To get a license, typically, certification as a genetic counselor is required, and specific licensing requirements differ from state to state.
Usually, certified genetic counselors are preferred by employers regardless of the requirements of the state they are in.
Genetic counselor job facts show that after completing their master’s in genetic counseling, people interested in this career may decide to provide general care or specialize in more areas, determined by the types of patients and research they choose to focus on.
These specialties deal with different types of genetic counseling like pediatric, prenatal and preconception, cancer, cardiovascular genetic counseling, etc.
Genetic Counselor Pay
In May 2019, the median annual wage for this profession was $81,880. The average yearly pay for genetic counselor jobs in 2020 was $81,350 (as of December). The highest 10% earned over $114,750, while the lowest 10% earned less than $61,310. As of 2020, the average hourly rate was about $39.11 per hour.
Salary for genetic counselor jobs usually depends on the candidate’s experience, skill level, and the place of work they’ve chosen. As is the case with most healthcare jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for advancement and salary increases as a genetic counselor’s career progresses.
Genetic Counselor Job Outlook
From 2019 to 2029, a 21% increase is expected in the number of genetic counselor job openings. This is much faster than the average growth for all occupations and growth for other medical professions. However, since genetic counseling is currently a rather small occupation, this 21% increase would only result in about 600 new jobs altogether in those 10 years.
The number and range of tests that can be administered by genetic counselors and used in their evaluations have increased massively over the past few years. A lot of technological innovations and lab tests have been developed recently, making genetic counseling jobs much easier. Most genetic tests seem to be covered by the majority of health insurance providers.
The bulk of genetic counselors who get accredited and pass their certification exams have very favorable job prospects. For every graduate, there are at least three to four jobs to pursue.
Is genetic counseling a good career?
Genetic counseling is rated very highly as a healthcare support job all over the world. The US Job Report of 2020 ranked genetic counseling as number two on the list of the best healthcare support jobs and as number 25 on the overall top jobs in the US list.
This shows that genetic counseling is a very rewarding career, made even more so by being based around helping people understand their health and explore their options. According to reports, most genetic counselors (94%) claim to be very satisfied with their jobs and thoroughly enjoy them.
How hard is genetic counseling?
You’ll need to endure a lot of rigorous learning and coursework before getting the master’s degree necessary to be certified as a genetic counselor. You should also expect a fair bit of clinical rotations and research, but before you even get to all of that, you first need a bachelor’s degree in public health or biological sciences.
Also, acceptance rates for genetic counseling graduate programs are about 8%, which shows that this is not an easy field to get into. Even when certified, you’ll have to keep passing additional certification exams and continually updating your knowledge base.
What does a genetic counselor do?
Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who help individuals and families, and also other healthcare professionals to understand how genetics works and how genetic information impacts their (or their patient’s) day to day living.
They interview patients and take family histories from them, help them make important decisions, and offer emotional and psychological support. They also do a lot of research and follow-up on patients’ genetic issues.
Are genetic counselors important in surgery?
Genes have been proven to have a significant role in the development of cancers, and new genes are linked to cancers occurring in families.
Genetic testing has now become very important in, for instance, breast cancer cases even before surgery, and the risk of unfavorable surgical outcomes is significantly reduced when genetic testing and counseling are added to the routine care and maintenance of cancer patients and their families.
Is genetic counseling a good specialty?
Genetic counselors are an important part of clinical care and this isn’t likely to change any time soon. There are also a number of niches within this specialty, which all cater to specific types of patients. The field provides plenty of advancement opportunities for individuals with solid skillsets and analytical abilities.
How much does a genetic counselor make?
Genetic counselors made $81,350 on average in 2020. This comes down to $39.11 per hour—an equivalent of about $1,564 per week or $6,779 in one month. There are annual salaries as high as $137,000 and as low as $49,000, depending on the skill and experience of the individual and the location and type of establishment where they work.
The majority of the genetic counselor salaries at the moment range between $63,500 and $90,000 per year, however, top earners in the United States are making more than $120,000 annually.
Being a genetic counselor requires extensive skill, knowledge, and experience, which makes studying for this position very tasking.
However, genetic counselor jobs are very rewarding and practically guarantee a stable, lucrative, and meaningful career. Since job outlooks in the field for the next few years seem very positive, if the focus of this discipline seems appealing to you, it might be the perfect time to make the first real steps towards landing this kind of job.