What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Genetic Counselor?

If you have an interest in the science of genetics and the compassion to help patients understand the risk of inherited genetic disorders, then a career as a genetic counselor could be in your future. These healthcare professionals study genetic disorders and syndromes, analyze genetic information and assess the risks of inheriting genetic disorders. Genetic counselors work with families and with other healthcare providers to test for, treat and educate about these inherited medical conditions. The career is not only personally rewarding but also in-demand. Genetic counselor is among the 10 fastest growing jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The first step to attaining this career is a college education.

An Education in Genetic Counseling

While an undergraduate degree is essential to reach the next step of the education process necessary for work as a genetic counselor, there’s no single major that students must pursue. The only requirement is that the student must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, according to the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Popular courses of undergraduate study among aspiring genetic counselors include psychology, healthcare and medical sciences, ABGC reported.

Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, you can apply to Master of Science in Genetic Counseling degree programs. Make sure that the program you choose has earned specialized accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and is among the more than 30 programs certified by the ABGC. In a Master of Science in Genetic Counseling degree program, you can expect to study subjects like public health, psychology, epidemiology, developmental biology, health communication strategies and patient empathy in addition to coursework in genetics, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Students enrolled in master’s degree programs in genetic counseling will complete clinical observations and reviews of existing genetics research as well as classroom-based lecture courses and laboratory-based experiments.

The Certification and Licensure Process

In addition to the right education, candidates for genetic counselor jobs also need the right certification and licensure credentials. Graduates of certified, accredited Master of Science in Genetic Counseling programs can sit for the comprehensive exam to earn certification. While not all states currently require genetic counselors to be licensed, certification is a precursor to getting a license in the states that do, the BLS reported.

Genetic counseling is one career that’s currently seeing rapid job growth. The BLS anticipates opportunities in this field to increase by 41 percent over just a decade, which far faster than the 13 percent job growth rate expected for other healthcare practitioners and the 11 percent increased predicted for all occupations. Genetic counselors earn a median salary of $56,800 per year and, like other professionals in the healthcare industry, stand to earn an average of $2.6 million over the course of their professional lives. When you make the major decision to pursue a career in genetics counseling, you’re preparing yourself for a rewarding career in a fast-growing field.

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