Video Transcript – What is Genetic Counseling?
Hi everybody. My name is Abby and I’m a second year genetic counseling student. you’ve happened on this video because one you’re interested in genetic counseling and you know what it is, two someone has once mentioned genetic counseling to you and you’re curious for more information, or three, like me, when I was a college senior you’re graduating and have no idea what to do next. Either way this video is for you. We’re going to talk about this amazing profession of genetic counseling, what it is, where it’s going, and then how you can apply to be a genetic counselor yourself.
So what is a genetic counselor a genetic counselor is a trained health professional who helps patients understand their genetic health. This could mean ordering tests, interpreting test results, and then communicating those results to the patient and to their provider.
So first a little basic science lesson. The study of genetics is the study of our DNA. Our DNA is in every cell in our body and it’s our instruction code for how we grow, develop, and function. Next think about who becomes a genetic counselor. There’s specific personality traits and strengths that would flourish in this job. Thinking about yourself are you someone who enjoys hard science, attention to detail, has a concern for others and wants to help them, has integrity, values cooperation and teamwork, and is a dependable person.
Last how? Think about how to become a genetic counselor first you need a four year undergraduate degree. Usually this is in some kind of biological sciences or psychology but any degree will work as long as you have the right prerequisite classes. Next a two-year graduate program to get your master’s in genetic counseling. After that you have to take a certification exam to become a certified genetic counselor. Additionally some states also require a state licensure. This is just a little extra paperwork after you come certified.
Next let’s talk about areas of practice. The best part about genetic counseling is the variability in the field and the areas where we can practice. We think of the three main ones as clinical, industry, and laboratory but there’s new specialties popping up every year. So for clinical these what we considered the big three these are what you’re going to need to do rotations in while you’re in graduate school: cancer, pediatrics, and prenatal.
In cancer, you’re helping patients understand their risk for hereditary cancer and also their families risk if they were found to be carriers of a cancerous mutation. Next, pediatrics. This is meeting with pediatric patients and their families, helping them understand their child’s genetic condition. Third prenatal. This is meeting with women and couples before and during their pregnancy to help them understand their risks for a genetic condition as well as talking about screening and testing options for their babies.
Next industry. So this could mean working in a large laboratory, working in an insurance company, or maybe even starting your own genetic consult business. Some of the roles that these GCs have are management, marketing, test development, research, test interpretation and analysis, education, and telehealth.
Next we have laboratory. So this is a GC who works in a genetic testing lab. Some of these roles can overlap with an industry GC but there are some specific roles that just lab GCs do. One of those is variant interpretation and writing reports that we send out to patients. There’s also test development, test utilization, research education for physicians and other health care providers, and then also working with insurance companies to make sure that these tests are authorized and paid for by insurance.
So this last part here are all the amazing subspecialties. As we learn more about genetics we are able to work it into all the other different medical fields. Some of them include infertility genetics, cardiovascular, cystic fibrosis, hematology, metabolic, neurogenetics, and even post-mortem genetic testing.
All right let’s move on to job outlook. When considering a future career it’s important to consider the job statistics and luckily genetic counseling has got some great stats. The average salary for a genetic counselor is $81,000 per year. There’s currently 2,600 open spots for genetic counseling and in the next 10 years it’s expected to grow by 21 percent. GCs usually work in a full-time role but there’s also a chance for them to work part-time. This schedule usually involves a Monday through Friday, 8-5 but this can vary depending on where you work and if you choose to work independently as a consultant for genetic counseling.
Next let’s talk about schooling. So the big question is how do you become a genetic counselor? First is getting that undergraduate degree. Most students who apply to graduate programs have degrees in biology, biological sciences, or psychology but really any degree counts as long as you have the right prerequisites that your graduate program requires.
Next graduate programs. There are 53 different programs in the US and Canada and these programs are 21 to 24 months, full time. And these programs are giving students classes in genetics, counseling, as well as clinical rotations in cancer, pediatrics, and prenatal. As well as maybe some other rotation opportunities. The last thing is that most programs require a thesis or a capstone as a requirement for graduation.
Last certification and licensure. So certification happens after you graduate and you take the American Board of Genetic Counseling exam. This is a 200 question exam with a four hour time limit. You need to pass to become a certified genetic counselor. Beyond this some states also require licensure from their genetic counselors to practice. This just requires a little extra paperwork after you get your certification.
And last let’s talk about applications. So you want to apply. Here’s how to make yourself a standout applicant for graduate programs. One of the first thing that programs are looking for is exposure to the field of genetic counseling. Ideally this would be through job shadowing a GC who’s local to your area. However these opportunities can be really hard to come by so supplementing with other ways is a great way to show that you know what genetic counseling is. This could be phone interviews with GCs, watching videos about genetic counseling, or getting a genetic counseling assistant job.
Next we have advocacy work. So this is showing programs that you’ve worked with people who are going through difficult situations. You’ve shown skills of empathy and concern for others. Some examples of this is working with women’s shelters, support groups, suicide hotlines, or working with sexual assault victims.
Next letters of recommendation. So this is something that really varies program to program, the letters they require, and then who writes the letters. So make sure that you’re checking on program websites to see what they need for their applications. Some great people to contact when asking for letters rec are GCs you have shadowed, college professors that you’ve taken multiple classes with or have worked with on research, and then those advocacy supervisors that can talk about the skills that you have when dealing with people in those hard situations.
So the last one is program prerequisites this is something that really varies program to program. So make sure that you know what your program requires before going through the application process. This is specifically thinking about something like a GRE, some programs require this and others don’t. This might actually influence your decision of which programs you want to apply for. Also programs have different class requirements. Things such as developmental biology, psychology, upper level genetics course, also the number of letters recommendation and who writes them.
The most important thing you can do is contact the program if you have questions, look at their websites, see what they require, and then reach out to the program leadership because they want to talk to you and they want to make sure that you feel prepared going into the application process.
All right guys thanks for listening today and if there’s two things I want you to take away from this video it’s one, that genetic counseling is an amazing profession with a lot of variability and it’s growing every year. Two if you’re interested in applying to programs, reach out to those programs, talk to them and make sure that you’re qualified to apply before you do. I’m going to be linking this presentation under the video as well as some more informational links for your own personal research.