How to Become a Genetic Counselor


To become a genetic counselor, you will need to begin by determining if this career is a good fit for you.


Are you strong intellectually, academically and emotionally? Are you interested in a career that allows you to help people make important decisions regarding their health? Can you help people deal with distressing situations in an empathetic, caring and helpful manner?


If so, then you may be well suited for this profession.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a genetic counselor. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Genetic Counselor

To qualify for work in this field, you'll likely need to complete a Master of Science degree in genetic counseling from a recognized university. Many genetic counselors complete their undergraduate degrees, and often have working experience in areas such as psychology, social work, biology and nursing.


A Master of Science in genetic counseling program generally consists of coursework in clinical genetics, molecular genetics, population genetics, counseling techniques and counseling theory as well as training that’s composed of clinical rotations within genetics departments.


Beyond meeting educational requirements, you may also need to be licensed in order to work as a genetic counselor. In Canada, the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors certifies most genetic counselors. In the United States writing a certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) certifies genetic counselors.





General Job Description

Genetic counselors provide support for families who may be at risk for inherited health conditions. They must with families to help them understand and adapt to birth defects or genetic disorders, as well as refer them to other resources and services in the community that can assist them.


People primarily utilize the services of genetic counselors to gain information that will help them make informed healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. By performing certain tests and acquiring certain information from patients, genetic counselors can provide helpful information such as:


• The chances of the patient having or developing an inherited health condition

• The chances of giving birth to a child with an inherited health condition

• Determine the likelihood of developing cancer based on family history  



Typical Job Duties & Responsibilities

• Help patients understand their risk for certain diseases

• Gain thorough understanding of patient’s medical and family history to determine existing risk level of genetic disease or illness

• Evaluate data related to family and medical history of patient

• Help patients determine the level risk that they will pass genetic diseases or illnesses to their unborn children

• Provide support to patients who undergo extensive and invasive genetic testing

• Provide support to parents who discover that their children are at risk of developing a certain genetic disorder

• Liaise with other members of health care teams, such as physicians, nurses, counselors, aides, administrators and others





Why Genetic Counselors Are Important

Genetic counseling is a great career choice for those who want to make an impact on people’s lives and health. Genetic counselors assist individuals and families by interpreting genetic information in order to provide patients with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their personal health care and the health care of their families, based on test results and genetic risk.


In addition to providing patients with genetic information, genetic counselors also provide support. Working with a genetic counselor can afford a patient many benefits, including:


• Understanding the way genetics contribute to a medical condition, and its risk of reoccurrence

• Understanding the methods of managing a specific condition, and what resources are available

• Understanding options for dealing with the risk of a genetic condition reoccurring

• Assistance in choosing a course of action in managing inherited conditions, appropriate to their tolerance of risk, religious beliefs, family goals and ethical values



How Much Do They Earn?

The salary level of genetic counselors can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including their level of education, their level of experience, their area of specialty, where they work, and many others.


Genetic Counselor Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of genetic counselors is $80,370 per year (May, 2018 figures). The BLS also states that the lowest 10 percent of salaries in this group are less than $52,750 per year, and the highest 10 percent are above $107,45.



Who Employs Genetic Counselors? 

Genetic counselors typically work in the following settings:


• Hospitals and clinics

• Public healthcare facilities

• Private healthcare facilities

• Consulting organizations, or freelance consulting

• Colleges and universities (in teaching and/or research capacities)



Current Job Postings

Our job board below has "genetic counselor" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Similar Career Guides in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'genetic counselor', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Correctional Counselor

Crisis Intervention Specialist

Family Counselor


Marriage Counselor

Mental Health Counselor




Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a genetic counselor.


Occupations in Alberta:Geneticist.” (March 16, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Genetic Counselors.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Career Services:Genetic Counsellor (4153).” (n.d.) University of Manitoba - Student Affairs website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Certification:Canadian Certified Genetic Counselors.” (December, 2018) Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Genetic Counselor

Scholarships listed for majors that are relevant to this profession can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page, by finding the scholarship category pages that correspond to the majors listed on our "Relevant Fields of Study" section below. Any scholarships found within those pages will be suitable.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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Genetic Counselor