Who is a Genetic Counselor?
A Genetic Counselor is a trained genetics specialist who guides, educates, and supports patients in being able to make their own healthcare decisions regarding inherited disease and how it impacts them and their families.
Genetic counselors have specialized training in:
- Medical genetics
- Explaining advanced genetics concepts to patients of all educational levels
- Analyzing high level research and applying new knowledge to their practice
- Providing emotional and psychological support
- Helping patients understand the complexities of inherited genetic conditions
- Empowering patients to make informed decisions about their own health
They work with everyone in a patient’s healthcare team as an integral part of one’s journey through the healthcare system. Genetic counselors work in a variety of specialties, including: pediatrics, prenatal, oncology, neurology, hematology, psychiatry, and more. In addition, genetic counselors can have versatile roles outside of direct patient care, working in areas such as research, public health, advocacy, education, industry, and marketing.
How do I become a Genetic Counselor?
In order to become a certified genetic counselor in the U.S. or Canada, you must graduate from one of the over 50 ACGC-accredited genetic counseling master’s degree programs in the U.S. and Canada. While admission into a genetic counseling program is competitive, more training programs are created each year. Most programs require you to have:
- Received a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university,
- Additional coursework in
- Experience in patient advocacy, counseling, lab or healthcare
Most programs also use a holistic admissions review process, where they take into account extracurricular activities such as previous work experience, volunteer experience, and clinical experience. In addition, having experience shadowing a genetic counselor, attending seminars/webinars about genetic counseling, working as a genetic counseling assistant, or interviewing genetic counselors can show programs that you have a good understanding and interest in the profession.
Successful applicants often have an understanding of advocacy, as well as experience with helping others during moments of crisis (for example, volunteering at a crisis phone line, domestic violence center, LGBTQ+ community centers, etc.)
After completing a Master’s degree from an accredited genetic counseling training program, in order to practice and work as a genetic counselor in most places, you must also pass a certification exam from the American Board of Genetic Counseling or the Canadian Board of Genetic Counselling, depending on where you wish to work.
To find out about specific genetic counseling training programs, their admissions requirements and other relevant information, visit our Training Program Profile page.
To find out information about how to become a genetic counselor, visit www.nsgc.org/About/Becoming-a-Genetic-Counselor.
Genetic Counselors - what sparks your interest?
Typically, interests and experiences in advocacy, patient care, or public health translate well for this rewarding career path. But anyone with a passion for helping others and a great capacity for empathy from any walk of life can become a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors not only come directly into the profession, but can also come from a variety of other professional backgrounds such as:
- research scientists
- massage therapists
- retail workers
- stay at home parents
Genetic counseling is for everyone, no matter your background. The common thread that links us all is our passion to help people.
Aman is currently a prenatal genetic counselor and has created intimate, personalized videos detailing her journey in becoming a genetic counselor and tips she has for prospective students. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2021 and she has been vlogging her experience ever since. Check out her video below!
- For those interested in the genetic counseling profession, the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors has compiled a reading list to assist in providing context and a better understanding of the lived experiences of patients. Please see the suggested reading list here.
- To read more about what genetic counselors do, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors ‘About Genetic Counselors’ page here.
- Visit the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors website to see some informational brochures and videos about the work genetic counselors do.
- To find out more about what genetic counseling is and reasons people might seek genetic counseling or have genetic tests, visit the CDC’s Genomics & Precision Health page.