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Genetic counselors are health care professionals who have specialized education and training in the field of medical genetics. Genetic counselors interpret family history information and educate patients and professionals about genetic diseases.
As health care professionals, genetic counselors help individuals and families understand and adjust to a genetic diagnosis or the possibility of having a hereditary disorder. As specialized counselors, they help them understand genetic testing options and the implications of undergoing genetic testing, as well as address psychosocial and ethical issues associated with a genetic disorder or genetic test result.
As members of a health care team, genetic counselors serve as educators to patients, physicians, other health care providers and society.
Genetic counselors obtain a Master of Science degree from an accredited two-year graduate program in genetic counseling. Following graduation, genetic counselors become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling after passing rigorous board examinations.
Genetic counselors may work in a variety of clinical settings, including preconception, prenatal, pediatrics, oncology, neurology and other medical specialties. Genetic counselors are often affiliated with teaching universities, but many also work in private practice settings. Genetic counselors also work in administrative, teaching, laboratory and research areas.
Continued growth of the genetic counseling field is expected for many years. Completion of the Human Genome Project has ushered in a new era of genomic medicine. The emphasis on individualized (personalized) medicine resulting from the genomic revolution will increase the demand for genetic counselors who are specifically trained to translate complex medical and scientific information for families and other health professionals.
Genetic counselors typically earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year depending on their position, level of expertise, and area of the U.S. or world where they practice.