The field of genetic counseling is rapidly growing and was recently named a “Hot Concentration” for healthcare jobs by US News and World Report . There are now more than 2,000 genetic tests available, and with that comes an increased need for genetics experts. Genetic counselors have responded. Since 2006, the number of genetic counselors has grown 75 percent, according to the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
As a practicing genetic counselor for 11 years, I can truly say I love my job. I enjoy the continuous challenge that comes with the evolving knowledge of genetics, but what I find most rewarding is connecting with patients and their families, empowering them with information to make personal health decisions, and supporting them through the process of genetic testing.
I specialize in prenatal genetic counseling , helping moms-to-be navigate the genetic screening process for their baby. According to the 2014 NSGC Professional Status Survey, which asks members about their careers and specialties, the majority (93 percent 1 ) of genetic counselors also work directly with patients, but in a wide variety of clinical settings. For example, according to the survey, 1 here's a breakdown of genetic counselor specializations:
- 35 percent work in the prenatal setting
- 29 percent work in cancer genetics
- 12 percent work in pediatrics
- 24 percent work in other specialties, including cardiology, neurogenetics and infertility
We Love Our Jobs
Genetic counselors have unique STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. We have specialized degrees in genetics because we enjoy science, but also study psychology to understand how to connect with patients and guide them through decisions that are sometimes difficult. This is what we love most about our jobs – helping patients and their families.
Engagement with patients and the communities we serve is apparent, with more than 60 percent 1 of genetic counselors reporting that they create patient education materials. Organizing or presenting at educational conferences for patients and healthcare professionals is also commonplace. Additionally, many genetic counselors volunteer their time and serve as a resource to patient support groups, such as The National Down Syndrome Society.
How We Connect with Patients
We work in partnership with many different specialists who refer their patients to genetic counselors, including obstetricians/gynecologists, pediatricians, primary care physicians, cardiologists, oncologists and neurologists. In addition, more than half 1 of genetic counselors also see patients who refer themselves, many by using NSGC's “ Find a Genetic Counselor ” tool.
While the majority of genetic counseling appointments consist of a 30-60 minute face-to-face consultation, telephone counseling is becoming more prevalent. This allows for nationwide coverage and easier access for patients living in rural or previously underserved areas. Nearly half 1 of genetic counselors say they are able to see a new patient in a week's time, and most can accommodate a new patient within a two-week time frame.
How to Become a Genetic Counselor
Students interested in genetics and passionate about helping people can find the field of genetic counseling to be professionally challenging and personally rewarding. If you are interested in exploring genetic counseling as a career, check out our student resources .
Jennifer Hoskovec , MS, CGC, is president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the Director of Prenatal Genetic Counseling Services at the UTHealth Medical School in Houston.
1 The 2014 NSGC Professional Status Survey reports data from more than 1,900 practicing genetic counselors and reveals current trends in the genetic counseling profession. Download the Executive Summary .