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
2012 Median Pay $56,800 per year
$27.31 per hour
Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 2,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 41% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 900

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 advice 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, physicians’ offices, and diagnostic laboratories. 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 at least a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics. Although most genetic counselors have a master’s degree, some earn a Ph.D.

Pay

The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $56,800 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 41 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Genetic counselors should have better than average job prospects overall.

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 advice to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.

Duties

Genetic counselors typically do the following:

  • Analyze genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific disorders and syndromes
  • 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
  • Interview patients to obtain comprehensive medical histories and document the findings
  • Interpret laboratory results and communicate findings to patients or physicians
  • Counsel patients and family members by providing information, education, or reassurance regarding genetic risks and inherited conditions
  • Determine patient treatment plans by reviewing laboratory work, literature, and patient histories
  • Participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in genetics and genomics

Genetic counselors identify specific genetic disorders or syndromes 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 can also test whether an adult is likely to develop chronic disease, or cancer. Counselors identify these conditions by studying patients’ genes through DNA testing. Counselors often perform the lab tests themselves, although sometimes they have medical laboratory technologists perform the tests, which they then interpret and use for counseling. They share this information with other health professionals, such as physicians, and with patients and their families. For more information, see the profiles on medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and physicians and surgeons.

According to a 2012 survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, approximately two-thirds 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, neuropsychiatric genetics, and assisted reproductive technologies.

Work Environment About this section

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

Genetic counselors held about 2,100 jobs in 2012. Genetic counselors work in university medical centers, private and public hospitals, physicians’ offices, and diagnostic laboratories. They 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 at least a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics. Although most genetic counselors have a master’s degree, some earn a Ph.D.

Education

Genetic counselors typically need at least a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and some earn a Ph.D.

Coursework in genetic counseling includes public health, epidemiology, psychology, and developmental biology. Classes emphasize genetics, public health, and patient empathy. Advanced courses focus on clinical observations, review of previous genetic research, and health communication strategies.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The American Board of Genetic Counseling provides certification for genetic counselors. To become certified, a student must first complete a master’s degree program that is certified by the board. There are currently 31 certified programs in the United States. Students then must pass a comprehensive exam and continue to accrue continuing education units throughout their careers. Some states currently require a license in genetic counseling, and other states have pending legislation for licensure. Certification is typically needed to get a license.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Patients seek advice on family care or serious illness, so 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.

Decision-making skills. Genetic counselors must use their expertise and experience to determine how to disseminate their findings properly to their patients.

Speaking skills. Genetic counselors must communicate complex findings so that their patients can understand the magnitude of a health problem.

Pay About this section

Genetic Counselors

Median annual wages, May 2012

Genetic counselors

$56,800

Other healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

$54,130

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $56,800 in May 2012. 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 $25,540, and the top 10 percent earned more than $85,790.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for genetic counselors in the top four industries in which these counselors worked were as follows:

Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse)
hospitals; private
$67,480
General medical and surgical hospitals; local63,590
Colleges, universities, and professional
schools; state
63,240
Offices of physicians47,790

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

Job Outlook About this section

Genetic Counselors

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Genetic counselors

41%

Other healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

13%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 41 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 900 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 interpret has increased over the past few years.

Most growth over the next 10 years for genetic counselors is expected to be in hospitals.

Job Prospects

Genetic counselors can generally expect favorable job prospects. Ongoing innovations in genetic testing are likely to create demand for certified genetic counselors.

Employment projections data for genetic counselors, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Genetic counselors

29-9092 2,100 3,000 41 900 [XLS]

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 2012 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 $65,270
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 $41,830
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 $76,980
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 their family and 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 $41,500
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 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 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, 2014-15 Edition, Genetic Counselors,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm (visited September 19, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014