What is a Genetics Counselor?

A person who likes science and medicine may want to know what a genetics counselor is. This is a professional who bridges the gap between science, medicine and human psychology. When a person undergoes genetic testing or is considering it, a genetics counselor explains the tests, results and their impact on a person and any children they might have.

Role of a Genetics Counselor

The primary role of a genetics counselor is to identify the risk or a specific genetic disorder in an individual. This process begins with DNA testing. A person’s DNA is collected and sent to a laboratory. A technician performs the testing and sends the result to the genetics counselor. The counselor then meets with the individual to inform them of their results. The counselor usually uses a statistical analysis program to interpret the risk of a person developing a disorder based on their genetic profile. For a person who is pregnant, the genetic counselor informs them of the risk that their child will have for different hereditary disorders, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis. Genetic counselors educate individuals and couples about these risks and disorders.

Typical Job Duties of a Genetics Counselor

Genetic counselors perform several typical duties in their workdays. One of those duties is to interview their patients to get a comprehensive medical and personal history of the patient and their family. Another part of a genetic counselor’s job is to evaluate the genetic information provided by DNA testing. The counselors also write detailed reports of their consultations and provide those reports to referring doctors, specialists and the patients. Genetic counselors describe the pros, cons and effectiveness of treatments for genetic disorders. Another aspect of the job is providing education and reassurance to patients about their genetic profile and risk factors for different conditions or disorders.

Specialties of Genetics Counseling

Some people work as general genetics counselors, and others develop a specialty for their practice. A specialty may require some additional courses or training. Some of the specialties in genetics counseling include neurogenetics, genomic medicine, psychiatry, prenatal, pediatric and oncology. Some genetics counselors work in other areas of specialty, such as cardiovascular health or gynecology.

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Education Required to Become a Genetic Counselor

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is necessary to earn a master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling. Some of the courses in these master’s degree programs include statistics, public health, human genetics, developmental biology, epidemiology and psychology. There is also a required clinical rotation for the master’s degree program. About half of the states require licensing or certification for genetics counselors, and this is achieved by passing an exam conducted by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Even if a state does not require licensing for a genetics counselor, most employers require the certification. The American Board of Genetic Counseling also accredits genetics counseling programs.

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Understanding the role that a genetics counselor plays in medicine, health and counseling could help a person decide if this is the right career for them. This knowledge could also be helpful for other people want to work in healthcare or counseling. Knowing the answer to what a genetics counselor is could help a person decide on a career path and level of education.