Genetic Counselors

Summary

genetic counselors image
Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects.
Quick Facts: Genetic Counselors
2014 Median Pay $67,500 per year
$32.45 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 2,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 29% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 700

What Genetic Counselors Do

Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and support to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.

Work Environment

Genetic counselors work in university medical centers, private and public hospitals, and physicians’ offices. They work with families, patients, and other medical professionals. Most genetic counselors work full time.

How to Become a Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and board certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $67,500 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 29 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing technological innovations, including improvements in lab tests and developments in genomics, which is the study of the whole genome, are giving counselors the opportunities to conduct more types of analyses.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for genetic counselors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of genetic counselors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about genetic counselors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Genetic Counselors Do About this section

genetic counselors image
Genetic counselors provide information and advice to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.

Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and support to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.

Duties

Genetic counselors typically do the following:

  • Interview patients to obtain comprehensive individual family and medical histories
  • Evaluate genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific genetic risks
  • Write detailed consultation reports to provide information on complex genetic concepts for patients or referring physicians
  • Discuss testing options and the associated risks, benefits, and limitations with patients and families
  • Counsel patients and family members by providing information, education, or reassurance regarding genetic risks and inherited conditions
  • Participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in genetics and genomics

Genetic counselors identify specific genetic disorders or risks through the study of genetics. A genetic disorder or syndrome is inherited. For parents who are expecting children, counselors use genetics to predict whether a baby is likely to have hereditary disorders, such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, among others. Genetic counselors also assess the risk for an adult to develop diseases with a genetic component, such as certain forms of cancer.

Counselors identify these conditions by studying patients’ genes through DNA testing. Medical laboratory technologists perform lab tests, which genetic counselors then evaluate and use for counseling patients and their families. They share this information with other health professionals, such as physicians. For more information, see the profiles on medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and physicians and surgeons.

According to a 2014 survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, approximately three-fourths of genetic counselors work in traditional areas of genetic counseling: prenatal, cancer, and pediatric. The survey noted that the number of specialized fields for genetic counselors has increased. More genetic counselors are specializing in fields such as cardiovascular health, genomic medicine, neurogenetics, and psychiatry.

Work Environment About this section

genetic counselors image
Genetic counselors work in university medical centers, private and public hospitals, and physicians’ offices.

Genetic counselors held about 2,400 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most genetic counselors were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 39%
Offices of physicians 20
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 12

Genetic counselors work with families, patients, and other medical professionals.

Work Schedules

Most genetic counselors work full time and have a standard work schedule.

How to Become a Genetic Counselor About this section

genetic counselors image
Genetic counselors must be sensitive and compassionate when communicating their findings.

Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and board certification.

Education

Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics.

Coursework in genetic counseling includes public health, epidemiology, psychology, and developmental biology. Classes emphasize genetics, public health, and patient empathy. Students also must complete clinical rotations, during which they work directly with patients and clients. Clinical rotations provide supervised experience for students, allowing them to work in different work environments, such as prenatal diagnostic centers, pediatric hospitals, or cancer centers.

In 2014, there were 31 master’s degree programs in the United States that were accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The American Board of Genetic Counseling provides certification for genetic counselors. To become certified, a student must complete an accredited master’s degree program and pass an exam. Counselors must complete continuing education courses to maintain their board certification.

As of 2015, 20 states required genetic counselors to be licensed, and other states have pending legislation for licensure. Certification is typically needed to get a license. For specific licensing requirements, contact the state’s medical board.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Patients may seek advice on family care or serious illnesses. Genetic counselors must be sensitive and compassionate when communicating their findings.

Critical-thinking skills. Genetic counselors analyze laboratory findings to determine how best to advise a patient or family. They use their applied knowledge of genetics to assess inherited risks properly.

Decisionmaking skills. Genetic counselors must use their expertise and experience to determine how to share their findings properly with patients.

Speaking skills. Genetic counselors must be able to simplify complex findings so that their patients understand them.

Pay About this section

Genetic Counselors

Median annual wages, May 2014

Genetic counselors

$67,500

Other healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

$57,210

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $67,500 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,980.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for genetic counselors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $66,410
Offices of physicians 65,180
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 59,340

Most genetic counselors work full time and have a standard work schedule.

Job Outlook About this section

Genetic Counselors

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Genetic counselors

29%

Other healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 29 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the growth will result in only about 700 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Ongoing technological innovations, including lab tests and developments in genomics, are giving counselors the opportunities to conduct more types of analyses. Cancer genomics, for example, can determine a patient’s risk for specific types of cancer. The number and types of tests that genetic counselors can administer and evaluate has increased over the past few years. Similarly, many types of genetic tests are covered by health insurance providers.

Job Prospects

Genetic counselors who graduate from an accredited program and pass the board certification exam can generally expect the most favorable job prospects. Ongoing innovations in genetic testing are likely to create demand for certified genetic counselors.

Employment projections data for genetic counselors, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Genetic counselors

29-9092 2,400 3,100 29 700 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of genetic counselors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2014 MEDIAN PAY Help
Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.

Master's degree $67,420
Health educators

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $42,450
Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Doctoral or professional degree $79,930
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with family and other relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives.

Master's degree $42,250
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about genetic counselors, certification, and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit

American Board of Genetic Counseling

For more information about genetic counseling career requirements and developments in genetics, including licensure, visit

National Society of Genetic Counselors

For more information about accreditation and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit

Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling

O*NET

Genetic Counselors

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Genetic Counselors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm (visited February 13, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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State & Area Data

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2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.