Genetic counselors provide a critical service to individuals and families considering undergoing genetic testing by helping them identify their risks for certain disorders, investigate family health history, interpret information and determine if testing is needed. The genetic counseling process helps people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.
Most genetic counselors see patients in a clinic or hospital setting, and often work with obstetricians, oncologists and other doctors. Like doctors, genetic counselors can work in a variety of settings and provide different services. They may provide general care or specialize in one or more areas, including:
- Prenatal and preconception: For women and their partners who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant
- Pediatric: For children and their family members
- Cancer: For patients with cancer and their family members
- Cardiovascular: For patients with diseases of the heart or circulatory system and their family members
- Neurology: For patients with diseases of the brain and nervous system and their family members
In addition to counseling, genetic counselors also communicate with laboratories about the tests they offer, advocating for patients with their insurance companies and notifying patients about their test results.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of genetic counselors will grow 29% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Genetic counselors work in a variety of settings including universal medical centers, private and public hospitals/medical facilities, diagnostic laboratories, health maintenance organizations, non-for-profit organizations, and government organizations and agencies. They usually work 40 hours a week and don’t generally have to work weekends or evenings.
The median salary (half of genetic counselors earn more and half earn less), according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGS) 2019 Professional Status Survey (PSS) is $84,886.
Learn More About a Career as a Genetic Counselor
- Get information about who genetic counselors are and how to become one.
- Read about genetic counseling from the perspective of a genetic counselor
If you want to become a genetic counselor, the first step is to get your bachelor’s degree. While many genetic counselors receive a degree in biology, social science or a related field, those degrees are not required for entry into a genetic counseling program.
The next step is to apply for entry into an accredited master’s program in genetic counseling. Programs last approximately two years and include:
- Courses in human genetics, birth defects, ethics and counseling, among others
- Clinical training
- Thesis or capstone projects based on student conducted research
After earning a degree, genetic counselors become certified by taking and passing a certification exam.
- Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling
- American Board of Genetic Counseling
- American Society of Human Genetics
- Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors
- National Society of Genetic Counselors