Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Most enter the field from a variety of disciplines, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health and social work.
They 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.
The genetic counseling profession is rapidly expanding and diversifying. Heightened public awareness coupled with scientific advances in reproductive technologies and knowledge about the genetics of a wide range of adult disorders, have increased the demand for genetic counselors in clinical, teaching, research, administrative, commercial, public health, public policy, private practice and consulting environments. This trend is expected to continue well into the 21st century.
To become a certified genetic counselor, you must obtain a master’s degree in genetic counseling from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). You can find a program in the United States or Canada on the ACGC website.
Coursework typically includes clinical genetics, population genetics, cytogenetics and molecular genetics coupled with psychosocial theory, ethics and counseling techniques. Clinical placement in medical genetics centers approved by the ACGC is an integral part of the degree requirements.
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