What is Genetic Counseling?
Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. This process integrates:
- Interpretation of family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence.
- Education about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research.
- Counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition.
National Society of Genetic Counselors, 2005
Who are Genetic Counselors?
Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Most enter the field from a variety of disciplines, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health, and social work.
Genetic counselors work as members of a health care team, providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. They identify families at risk, investigate the problem present in the family, interpret information about the disorder, analyze inheritance patterns and risks of recurrence and review available options with the family.
Genetic counselors also provide supportive counseling to families, serve as patient advocates and refer individuals and families to community or state support services. They serve as educators and resource people for other health care professionals and
for the general public. Some counselors also work in administrative capacities. Many engage in research activities related to the field of medical genetics and genetic counseling. (Adopted by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 1983)
For information on genetic counselors and genetic counseling training programs, please download this helpful brochure from the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors: Who are Genetic Counselors?
Practicing genetic counselors should feel free to use any of this material at career fairs or during school or community presentations to share their roles and expertise with others. Those considering a career in genetic counseling will also find valuable information here to guide them on their journey to a degree and career in genetic counseling. For additional information, download the NSGC brochure, Become a Genetic Counselor.
What do Genetic Counselors do?
Genetic counselors provide a critical service to individuals and families considering undergoing genetic testing by helping them identify their risks for certain disorders, investigate family health history, interpret information and determine if testing is needed.
As society’s knowledge of genetics continues to expand, genetic counselors are working in nearly all areas of healthcare. Specialty areas where genetic counselors are working with patients and physicians include:
- Assisted Reproductive Technologies/Infertility
- Cardiovascular Genetics
- Familial Cancer Risk Counseling
- Fetal Intervention & Therapy
- Metabolic Genetics
- Pediatric Counseling
- Personalized Medicine
- Prenatal Counseling/Ultrasound Anomalies
- Psychiatric Disorders
As genetics has expanded into other areas of healthcare, genetic counselors have moved into exciting new roles. The skills genetic counselors receive in their training are opening doors to careers in:
- Diagnostic laboratories
- Educational and medical websites
- Pharmaceutical industry
- Public health
- Healthcare consulting
- Marketing/product development
- Policy development/advocacy
- The possibilities are endless and continue to expand!
The skills of genetic counselors will continue to open doors to new and exciting possibilities as genetic counselors are uniquely positioned To read more about the unique skill set of genetic counselors and how these skills support a variety of roles, please download the NSGC report, Core Skills of Genetic Counselors.