What does a genetic counsellor do?

February 4, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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genetic counselling

A genetic counsellor is a unique counselling professional who specialises in identifying genetic disorders and helping people make informed decisions based on these findings.

They do this by evaluating family histories and medical records and ordering genetic tests – they then assess the results, help patients to understand the implications of their findings, and make decisions about what to do next.

As a genetic counsellor, you can have an enormous impact on individuals and their families by sharing crucial factual genetic information with patients. For example, if one partner has a genetic condition such as down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, you can help them understand the risks of starting a family and the likelihood that their progeny may inherit the gene. Providing advice on inheritance patterns and the risk of a disease being passed on to the next generation helps couples make informed family planning decisions. Another key feature of your role would be to open up the dialogue and discuss any preventative measures that can be taken.

Personal attributes and skills

Genetic counselling is a field where communication skills and empathy make all the difference. When you have a positive diagnosis of a risk factor, it’s important to be able to communicate this information tactfully to the recipient. It’s never easy to hear that something is wrong with you and that you may be putting your future children at risk, so providing the information without making the other person feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed is paramount. Having a warm, supportive personality is crucial, as you will need to put patients at ease during what may be a challenging time for them. The ability to inspire confidence and trust is equally important. Finally, good analytical skills and record-keeping skills are also essential.

Education and training

To practice as a genetic counsellor in the UK, you must have a masters degree in genetic counselling as well as accreditation by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or another relevant body. Some professionals may also enter this field with degrees in other areas such as psychology, biology or public health.

Potential workplace settings

There are several workplace options open to you as a genetic counsellor. The most common are clinics and diagnostic laboratories, where you would counsel patients regarding the risks, preventive measures and alternatives they can consider. There is tremendous potential if you’re interested in research. Medical companies employ qualified genetic counsellors to analyse data or work as study coordinators where they would contribute to both qualitative as well as quantitative research in the field of medical genetics. Other employment options include educational institutions, healthcare policy organisations, and biotechnology companies where genetic testing and advice is offered to patients.

Salary expectations

The starting salary of a newly graduated genetic counsellor in the UK is approximately £25,000 to £30,000 a year. The average annual salary of a more experienced professional is about £40,000.

This can be an excellent career choice for you if you’re an active patient advocate and are committed to helping empower people with information that allows them to make informed decisions.

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