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.