A Genetic Counselor is a member of the medical community who help patients understand and come to terms with the significant impact of a genetically inherited disease, how it will affect them, their families and the society in which they live.
The process involved assesses the possibility of an inherited familial disease occurring or recurring in a family utilizing medical history and data gathered from patients family health history. It incorporates education regarding genetic transfer, testing and gathering research data, finding available resources, management and prevention. Counseling is mandated to help the patient in coping and adapting appropriately to the disease process.
Genetic Counselor Responsibilities
The responsibilities of a genetic counselor are many and involve working alongside physicians and families. Their function in the following capacities among others:
- As a member of the health care team they act as liaison or advocate for patients carrying a genetic trait or have an inherited disease.
- As a genetic resource for physicians in identifying genetic structures to reach a definitive diagnosis
- Provide information and support to families in which a member is diagnosed with a genetic disorder or birth defect.
- A source of information to families which are at risk or prone to certain inherited diseases
- Identify families at risk in the community investigating the problem, analyze the inheritance pattern and probability of occurrence or recurrence, then interpreting the information gathered to the families concerning the disorder and discuss genetic testing available.
- Provide genetic counseling at high risk specialty pre-natal units, pediatric care centers, adult genetic centers and at risk parents when one or both carry a genetic trait for certain inherited diseases.
Genetic Counselor Educational Requirements
This involves graduation from a facility approved by the (ABGC) American Board of Genetic Counselors with a Masters of Science degree in genetic counseling. The curriculum for this program should include approved courses in psychosocial theory, ethics, clinical genetics, population genetics, molecular genetics, cytogenetics and various counseling techniques.
Applicants from other disciplines within the medical community, who desire to pursue post graduate studies as genetic specialists, are accepted in the program. These include persons with background in nursing, biology, psychology or social workers and clinical experience for all genetic counselors in the US should take place in an ABGC approved facility.
At the completion of the program genetic counselors are expected to meet the criteria of an expert educator, skilled in translating the genetic language into understandable terms for the populace.
Genetic Counselor Certification
Certification for a Genetic Counselor is accomplished through the (ABGC) American Board of Genetic Counselors. This is conferred after satisfactorily completing all the required clinical experience and documentation necessary at an approved ABGC site. This includes compilation in a log –book, 50 supervised cases and successfully completing all required general and specialty exercises leading to a Masters of Science degree in Genetic Counseling.
Certification is not mandatory to begin practice, but should be completed within 3-4 years of graduation after which further training may be required for certification to be awarded.
Genetic Counselors Associations
The (NSGC) National Society of Genetic Counselors is an association for professional genetic counselors which was started in 1979. It promotes and offer support to genetic counselors. The benefits are many and designed specifically to assist genetic counselors in their practice to be resourceful and proficient in their work. Some of the benefits derived from membership include:
- Kept informed of NSGC’s ongoing initiatives to improve the genetic counseling profession
- Kept current on key policy issues and how they may affect the role and responsibilities of the genetic counselor.
- Advancement in career through job opportunities advertised in NSGC periodicals.
- Be made aware of NSGC involvement in advocacy for genetic counselors.
- Gain new knowledge and insight through networking with other members within the organization.
- Gain access to research funding through various foundations and organizations which have a particular interest in genetic programs.
- Membership discounts made available for educational purposes.
- Members are provided access to professional tools which will enhance the practice of a genetic counselor.
Expected Wages and Compensation
The compensation is highly competitive and genetic counseling graduates from an accredited school such as an ABGC facility can enjoy a salary of approximately $45,000-$60,000 per year in the US. Pay scale varies according to states, facility and communities; however a median salary of approximately $50,000 per year can be expected.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The scope for employment is wide and varied for genetic counselors. They may be found working in several health related educational departments such as universities affiliated with large medical centers, community clinics, genetic research laboratories, diagnostic laboratories of medical facilities and other health agencies.
In today’s world, the public has become more educated and awareness has grown regarding genetics and its effect on families lives. The demand for more medical professionals with this knowledge in medical facilities has increased dramatically. Therefore there is a great need for trained genetic counselors to work among patients with family histories of an inherited disease.