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Genetic counselors are trained specialists who determine risk factors for hereditary diseases and disorders in patients. They provide genetic testing and offer education and counseling to patients and their families. A master's degree in the field is required, and some states mandate licensure for the profession. Certification as a genetic counselor is typically required in order to obtain state licensure.

Required Education Master's degree
Licensure Required by some states
Certification Typically required for licensure
Projected Job Growth* 41% (2012-2022)
Average Salary* $62, 800 annually (2013)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors typically earned an average annual salary of $62, 800, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2013. Additionally, the BLS projected job growth of 41% for genetic counselors between 2012 and 2022 is much faster than average, due to innovations in genetic testing.

Genetic counselors work at hospitals, universities, laboratories, and private clinics. They are trained to analyze genetic data and communicate risk factors to patients and their families. A family history of cancer, muscular dystrophy, or cystic fibrosis might cause an individual to seek genetic counseling. Tasked with identifying potential predispositions for physical and mental diseases and disorders, genetic counselors are trained in the following:

  • Analyze patient histories
  • Provide genetic testing
  • Perform genetic risk calculations
  • Educate families about potential health risks
  • Help patients to cope with a diagnosis

Educational Requirements

Those interested in the field must complete a master's degree program in genetic counseling. Due to the small number of accredited programs, graduate schools often have a highly selective admission process. Students can prepare for admission with undergraduate courses in chemistry, biology, genetics, and psychology. Schools may require or strongly recommend paid or volunteer experience prior to enrolling in the professional program. Graduate program coursework requires clinical training through internships where students learn about the following:

  • Molecular genetics
  • Genetic screening
  • Counseling ethics and techniques
  • Research methods
  • Prenatal diagnosis
  • Population studies
  • Birth defects

Licensure Requirements

A few states mandate licensing of genetic counselors. In addition to earning a master's degree, candidates for licensure may be required to submit documented experience and pass a state examination. Licenses are typically valid for a determinate period and may require continuing education for renewal.

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