Are you interested in a career in which you will always be learning, in a field that is constantly expanding in ways that advance healthcare and improve the lives of patients, families and communities? If the answer is yes, medical genetics and genomics might be the right career for you!

Medical geneticists work at the intersection of research and clinical care, in a variety of professional and practice settings. Across the board, medical geneticists will tell you that their careers are engaging, challenging and rewarding.

Scientific and technologic discoveries are constantly transforming our understanding of genetic and genomic disorders and impacting almost every medical specialty. This rapid expansion of knowledge about the genetic and genomic basis of disease is bringing powerful new diagnostic, health management and treatment capabilities to patient care and public health and increasing the demand for medical genetics professionals in clinical and laboratory settings, in academia, government and industry.

There has never been a better time to be a medical geneticist. Every member of the medical genetics healthcare team, including clinical geneticists, laboratory geneticists, genetic counselors, nurses, physician assistants and so many more, plays an important part in caring for patients and their families. Below, we outline a few of the most common career pathways in medical genetics and genomics.

Clinical Geneticists

Clinical geneticists are physicians who care for patients in clinical settings and often carry out clinical or translational research related to patient care. They hold American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG) certification in the specialty of clinical genetics and genomics and have broad training in the evaluation, diagnosis, management and treatment of inherited conditions in patients across all ages from birth to adulthood.

Because of the wide-ranging effects of inherited conditions, clinical geneticists work at the intersection of many other medical disciplines. Advances in genetic and genomic technology, including massively parallel and whole genome and exome sequencing, offer unprecedented opportunities to diagnose and treat genetic conditions. These advances, combined with the rapidly changing scientific and medical knowledge base in genetics and genomics, have increased the demand for clinical geneticists to participate in the care of patients of all ages, including prenatal care and family planning.

Clinical geneticists have medical degrees such as MD, DO or equivalent degrees and have completed at least one residency year in an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited primary specialty followed by two years of medical genetics and genomics residency training. Combined medical genetics and genomics training programs are also available with pediatrics, internal medicine, maternal fetal medicine, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Candidates completing residency training in medical genetics and genomics are eligible to seek board certification through the ABMGG. The ABMGG is a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Information about training requirements for individuals with doctoral degrees earned outside the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico and for those who have received graduate medical training outside the United States is available on the Foreign Medical Graduates Credentials Review page of the ABMGG website.

Do you think the fascinating and ever-changing field of clinical genetics is right for you? A list of accredited medical genetics and genomics residency programs can be found on the website for the ACGME. To learn more about the specific admissions requirements for each of the different residency training programs, contact the programs directly.

Clinical Laboratory Geneticists

Clinical laboratory geneticists direct specialized clinical laboratories that perform testing for inherited and acquired genetic disorders. They hold ABMGG certification in clinical biochemical genetics, laboratory genetics and genomics (LGG), or both. Clinical laboratory geneticists are an integral part of the healthcare team and work in diverse laboratory settings such as academic medical centers, reference laboratories and the biotechnology industry.

Biochemical laboratory geneticists use mass spectrometry and other biochemical laboratory technologies to evaluate patients for inherited metabolic disorders. LGG-certified individuals use genetic and genomic laboratory methodologies to investigate the molecular basis of inherited and acquired conditions in patients. Clinical laboratory geneticists also interpret genetic, genomic and biochemical test results in the context of a patient’s medical and family history and nongenetic test results, and they provide comprehensive reports to ordering clinicians that include descriptions of the clinical implications of the test results for the patient and discussion of the implications, if any, for the patient’s family members. Both biochemical laboratory geneticists and LGG-certified geneticists also frequently conduct translational research, teach and carry out other educational and administrative activities.

Clinical laboratory geneticists hold PhD, MD, DO or other similar degrees. They have completed a two-year fellowship in an ABMGG-accredited clinical biochemical genetics or LGG training program; candidates seeking training in both specialties complete additional training for the second specialty. Candidates completing the required accredited fellowship training are eligible to seek board certification through the ABMGG. Information about training requirements for individuals with doctoral degrees earned outside the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico and for those who have received graduate medical training outside the United States is available on the Foreign Medical Graduates Credentials Review page of the ABMGG website.

Are you interested in an exciting and dynamic career in clinical laboratory genetics? A list of accredited clinical biochemical genetics and LGG training programs can be found on the ABMGG website. To learn more about the specific admissions and training requirements for each of the different laboratory training programs, contact the programs directly.

Genetic Counselors 

Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who integrate the science of medical genetics and genomics with the art of counseling. They work in clinical, laboratory, research, public health and other settings where genetic and genomic education, tests and services are delivered under the supervision of a medical geneticist or other physician.

Genetic counselors are trained to provide a wide variety of services to individuals and families including assisting with the collection and review of medical and family histories; assessing—and then educating patients about—genetic risks and options for genetic testing; providing pretest counseling to help patients understand the capabilities and limitations of genetic and genomic tests; facilitating informed consent for testing; helping interpret genetic and genomic test results—discussing complex concepts in an understandable manner; and providing posttest genetic counseling to help patients understand the implications of test results for themselves and their family members. Genetic counselors also counsel patients and families to cope with genetic diagnoses and manage genetic risks.

Genetic counselors commonly specialize in one area of medicine such as prenatal and preconception care, pediatric, cancer, cardiovascular or neurologic care, or any number of other areas of medicine. They frequently work alongside other healthcare providers including physicians, laboratory geneticists, nurses, dieticians and physician assistants. In addition, genetic counselors often help carry out research.

Genetic counselors hold bachelor’s degrees and have completed a two-year master’s degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). Candidates graduating from an accredited master’s degree program in genetic counseling are eligible to seek board certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling, Inc. (ABGC). An increasing number of states now require licensure to practice as a genetic counselor.

Do you think you would like to become a genetic counselor? More information about genetic counseling as a career can be found on the website of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC). A list of accredited genetic counseling graduate programs is available on the ACGC website. To learn more about genetic counseling graduate programs in Canada, as well as reciprocity between Canadian and US programs and certification, visit the Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors (CAGC). Information about international graduate programs can be found through the Transnational Alliance for Genetic Counseling. To learn about the specific admissions and training requirements for each of the different genetic counseling degree programs, contact the programs directly.

Other Health Professionals Working in Medical Genetics and Genomics

Many other healthcare professionals, representing a broad range of training and specialization, may also focus their interests on medical genetics and genomics. For example, nurses, physician assistants, clinical laboratory scientists and technicians, social workers, pathologists’ assistants and many others devote their careers to the care of patients and families affected by genetic conditions, the laboratory diagnosis of inherited and acquired genetic conditions, or medical genetics-related public health services, research or policymaking.

For more information about these allied health and other careers, refer to the institutions that train these highly skilled healthcare professionals or to the professional membership societies that support these professionals.

ACMG Resources

  • ACMG’s YouTube Channel delivers a collection of videos that include discussions of current topics in medical genetics and interviews with prominent medical geneticists.
    • While you are on the ACMG channel, be sure to also check out the Careers in Genetics playlist. This playlist offers personal stories from medical geneticists. Watch as they describe what it is like to be a medical geneticist, why medical genetics is such an exciting and rewarding career, and what they love most about being a medical geneticist.
  • ACMG's Genetics Academy brings you the latest educational programming from the ACMG, including ACMG’s monthly Genomics Case Conference webinars and a wide range of OnDemand educational content recorded at ACMG meetings and courses.
  • ACMG’s brochure entitled Graduate Medical Education in Medical Genetics and Genomics describes the training pathways and common work environments for clinical geneticists.
    • To order hard copies of the brochure, call 301-718-9603 or email acmg@acmg.net.
  • Follow ACMG on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and join the conversation on medical genetics and genomics.
  • Stay up to date on the latest news, information and educational and practice resources from the ACMG at www.acmg.net.

Join ACMG Today to Unlock All the Benefits of Membership

ACMG is proud to offer free membership to students and reduced dues rates for trainees, postdoctoral fellows and young professionals. With more than a dozen membership categories, there is a niche at ACMG for everyone interested in medical genetics and genomics. To learn more about all the benefits of ACMG membership—and to learn how to apply for membership in the ACMG—visit ACMG’s membership page.