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Who Are Genetic Counselors?

Genetic counselors receive special training in two areas - genetics and counseling

Genetic counselors have advanced training in medical genetics and counseling to guide and support patients seeking more information about how inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families, and to interpret test results.

You may be referred to a genetic counselor by a doctor (such as an obstetrician, oncologist or medical geneticist) to discuss your family history and genetic risks, or before or after having genetic testing. While genetic counselors are not medical doctors, they are part of your healthcare team and work with you and your doctor to help you understand:

  • Your genetic risks based on your family history
  • Your genetic risks for certain diseases or cancer
  • Whether genetic testing might be right for you
  • What the results of genetic tests may mean for you and your family

With expertise in counseling, genetic counselors can also provide emotional support as you make decisions and empower you with information for your overall healthcare.

What does it take to be a genetic counselor?

For many genetic counselors, the first step to becoming a genetic counselor is to earn a bachelor’s degree, typically in biology, social science or a related field. Because specialized training in genetics and counseling is vital, genetic counselors then earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling. These specialized programs are currently offered at approximately 30 schools in the United States and Canada.

Learn more about the education and training to become a genetic counselor

Certification is another recommended step. Certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC), while not required everywhere, demonstrates that the individual has met the standards necessary to provide competent genetic counseling. Many hospitals and clinics insist their genetic counselors be ABGC-certified. In states where genetic counselors are licensed, all genetic counselors with licensure must be ABGC-certified.