Genetic Counseling: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for genetic counselors. Get the facts about educational and licensure requirements, job outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors evaluate the risks of individuals or families for heritable diseases. Based on their assessments, they write up comprehensive medical reports for referring physicians and their patients. They also meet with patients to discuss genetic testing options, help them understand DNA analyses and offer support to at-risk patients and their families. Some genetic counselors also conduct research in order to inform their practice and advance knowledge in the field.

See the chart below for important details about becoming a genetic counselor.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Genetic counseling
Key Skills Counsel clients who may have genetic diseases and conditions
Licensure Required Licensure requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29%*
Average Salary (2015) $74,570*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Would I Do as a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors interact with clients to provide information on heritable conditions and explain the results of DNA analyses. As a genetic counselor, you help your clients understand the effects that their DNA results may have on their lives. You must be knowledgeable in the science behind heritable diseases and conditions, and you must also have a strong understanding of psychology in order to best relate to clients. You could also work in a research capacity, adding to the growing information about genetic inheritance.

What Education Do I Need?

To become a genetic counselor, you'll need to hold a master's degree in genetic counseling. Though completion of a specific undergraduate degree program is not required to apply to a master's program, a program of study in medical sciences, healthcare or psychology could serve as good preparation. Coursework in a master's program typically involves classes such as population, clinical and molecular genetics, along with classes in ethics, psychology and counseling techniques.

Do I Need to be Licensed or Certified?

According to the BLS, 20 states require licensure for genetic counselors as of 2015, at which time legislation was also pending in other states. Because each state has its own licensure requirements, you'll need to research any specific requirements that you may need to fulfill. Certification is generally voluntary, but genetic counselors can seek certification after completing their master's degree programs. The American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) offers the Certified Genetic Counselor (CGC) credential (www.abgc.net). You are eligible to take the examination to become certified within five years of earning your master's degree.

How Much Can I Expect to Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2015 that genetic counselors made an average annual income of $74,570 (www.bls.gov). Most genetic counselors in 2015 were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals.

Additionally, the BLS indicated that job growth for genetic counselors was anticipated to be great, at 29% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than average. Opportunities in the field were expected to continue to grow due to continuing investigations in this field that are leading to scientific breakthroughs in genomics.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to dedicate your career to full-time research of human health and the causes of disease, you could consider becoming an epidemiologist. Most professionals in this field hold a master's degree in public health. Alternatively, if you would rather focus on treating patients who have genetic disorders or heritable diseases, you could become a physician's assistant. In this job, you would work closely with physicians to diagnose and treat patients. Physician assistants must hold a master's degree and pass a licensure exam.

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