Genetic Counselor

Career Profile:

Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors advise and assist people on the origins and inheritance of genetic disorders and the genetic basis of diseases.

You use your expertise as a genetic counselor to provide information and counseling on genetic disorders and diseases that may have a genetic basis. You identify families or individuals at risk, analyze inheritance pattern, and then find and interpret information about the disorder. You investigate the symptoms of the disorder and discuss available options for intervention or treatment. As a genetic counselor, you focus on the study of genes and heredity--how genetic information and traits pass from parents to offspring.

Where You Work

As a genetic counselor, you will typically work in a hospital or medical center. If you are a clinical genetic counselor, you may work in a hospital, a private practice, or serve as a consultant. As a commercial genetic counselor, you will work with biotechnology companies that design, sell, and administer genetic tests. Education and public policy counselors teach and advise companies, students, and lawmakers.

How You Help

Genetic Counselors talk to patients concerned about their risk of developing breast cancer. They develop pedigrees and review family history to determine if a patient may have a genetic predisposition for a disease, including BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutations. A genetic counselor will explain the significance of these mutations, review family medical history and determine if a genetic test is suitable. They order genetic tests and review results with patients. Genetic counselors also develop ways to reduce the risk of cancer.

Helpful High School Courses

  • Psychology and/or sociology
  • Health
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Advanced mathematics
  • Genetics

Skills to Build

  • Ability to empathize and listen
  • Strong background in genetics, science and psychology
  • Must be organized and detail oriented


  • Combines genetics and working with people
  • Rewarding to help people during difficult times
  • Opportunities for teaching and research
  • Skills may transfer to another field


  • Need to deal with death and disease
  • Can be emotionally draining
  • Can be challenging to stay on top of all the advancements in the field

Education You Need

Master’s degree in genetics with background that includes psychosocial theory, ethics, or counseling. Voluntary certification is available through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC).

A Day in the Life

  • 9:00
    Meet with oncologist to review records of patient with a family history of breast cancer
  • 10:00
    Meet with patient, discuss BRCA genes and suggest a genetic test
  • 11:00
    Obtain specimen from patient and order genetic test from laboratory
  • 11:30
    Draft letter explaining necessity of testing to insurance company
  • 1:30
    Create pedigrees for other patients and input data into BRCA model
  • 2:30
    Travel to different site to supervise data collection
  • 4:00
    Meet with patient and her daughter to discuss results of genetic testing

Average Annual Salary Range


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* Actual salary dependent on education, experience, location, and other variables