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What Genetic Counselors Do

  • Genetic counselors work in countless healthcare settings to improve the lives of people with known or suspected genetic conditions in many ways.
  • Genetic counselors most often work in direct patient care roles, Some genetic counselors do not work with patients. Some write testing reports for genetic testing companies, conduct or assist with research, teach in medical or graduate school, guide and manage business decisions, or create or implement new laws or policies, etc.
  • As our understanding of DNA improves, the settings, jobs, and roles for genetic counselors will continue to increase.

Genetic counselors work in many settings as integral members of the healthcare team. Though they work in many different areas and have many different roles, almost all genetic counselors help translate genomic science to improve the lives of people with common and rare genetic conditions.

Some Genetic Counselors work directly with patients

Most genetic counselors work in a clinic or hospital, and often work in partnership with other doctors and members of your healthcare team. Genetic counselors may provide general care, or specialize in one or more areas including prenatal/family planning, pediatrics, cancer or neurology. Some examples of a time that you might consult with a genetic counselor are if:

  • You are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, and you are concerned about your baby’s health. For example, you might be:
    • Concerned about an inherited condition in your family and want to know the risk of your baby having that condition
    • Considering what common genetic tests your baby should have, such as for Down syndrome
  • You are pregnant, had genetic testing and your baby received an abnormal test result
  • You, your child or a family member has been diagnosed with a genetic condition
  • A close relative has been diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or some other condition that may be due to an inherited gene, and you wonder if you or your children might have that gene
  • You would like advice for sharing genetic information with relatives
  • Your family has a history of birth defects or other genetic conditions

There are also some common misconceptions about genetic counselors who work with patients. Genetic counselors do not:

  • Require you to have genetic tests – Genetic counselors inform you about your options, answer questions and provide information and guidance about genetic testing you can consider. They do not force testing on you. In fact, in some cases, they help you understand that test results may not provide you with a clear answer.
  • Practice as licensed therapists – Although they counsel and guide patients regarding their options for genetic testing, they are not licensed therapists. Genetic counselors can help you get through a difficult time, but they are not psychologists.
  • Recommend you don’t have children – Genetic counselors provide information that you can use to make your own healthcare and lifestyle decisions, and will provide insights and guidance if needed or requested.

Some Genetic Counselors work in other areas

Some genetic counselors do not work with patients, an instead work in a different area, such as:

  • Reading, interpreting, and writing reports for genetic testing companies
  • Conducting or assisting with research, including collecting information such as detailed family histories and pregnancy information
  • Teaching in medical or graduate school programs
  • Working with policymakers and lawyers on policy and legal statutes specific to genetics or genetic counseling

Their diverse set of skills combining clinical knowledge, technical expertise, and counseling skills allows them to work in a growing set of fields. In 2020, genetic counselors worked in over a dozen different areas, ranging from hospitals to software companies.