7 Things You Didn’t Know About Genetic Counseling
Melanie W. Hardy, MS, MS, LCGC
As a genetic counselor, it’s very common to get confused looks from people when I try to describe to them what I do for a living. At JScreen, genetic counselors are a vital part of the carrier screening process to help ensure accurate, appropriate testing for program participants. Genetic counselors also play a key role in helping people understand their results and the options they have for follow-up once testing is completed. So, to help you get to know the profession a bit more, here is a short list of fun facts about the genetic counseling profession:
- Genetic counselors receive specialized training, a Master’s degree, in both medical genetics and counseling services.
To help people understand their risks for inheritance of genetic conditions or how to navigate if they are diagnosed with a genetic condition, genetic counselors have to be knowledgeable about the conditions as well as how people may react to such information. The counseling training is just as important and the technical genetics training.
- All genetic counselors are trained to serve patients in a variety of “traditional” areas like pediatrics, cancer, and prenatal services. However, after graduation, most genetic counselors will work in a job where they specialize in a single area.
Genetic counselors often move into other specialties, especially as genetic knowledge advances over time. Other specialties include: cardiovascular genetics, genomic technologies, industry, infertility, metabolics, neurogenetics, psychiatric disorders, public health, research, telehealth and many more.
Luckily, the skills learned for traditional genetic counseling are broadly applicable to the specialty areas. But, genetic counselors are always learning to stay on top of the latest developments in their field.
- There are about 4,000 genetic counselors in the United States, and many are branching out to utilize their skills around the world.
There has been an 88% increase in the number of genetic counselors since 2006.
The field is growing so quickly that more and more genetic counseling training programs are starting up each year to try to meet demand.
- There are currently about 35 genetic counseling training programs in the United States and Canada.
The first class of genetic counselors graduated from Sarah Lawrence College about 45 years ago, with 8 graduates.
Most programs still graduate about 8 genetic counseling students each year.
- Most genetic counselors are board-certified. Board certification means that the genetic counselor passed a rigorous board exam covering medical genetics and counseling topics relevant to the field of genetic counseling. It ensures that the genetic counselor has the knowledge to navigate complex genetic information and to educate and counsel patients and providers about its meaning. It also signifies that the genetic counselor maintains continuing education to stay abreast of the ever-changing genetics landscape.
- 9 out of 10 genetic counselors report being satisfied with their jobs.
Helping patients and medical professionals understand genetic information and test results is a rewarding job!
About 95% of genetic counselors are female, but efforts are made to help more males realize the benefits of becoming a genetic counselor.
- Genetic Counselor Awareness Day is November 9. This year is the first annual occurrence of the special day.
If you know a genetic counselor, or have ever benefitted from his or her services, send the genetic counselor a quick “Hello!” on November 9!
*All of the numbers in this article courtesy of NSGC resources (nsgc.org)
Melanie is the Assistant Director of Genetic Counseling Services for the Jscreen program. She received a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2011 and was certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling in 2012. Her professional interests include community outreach and education, mentorship of young professionals, provision of telehealth, and enhancement of the healthcare experience.