What Genetic Counselors Do
Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects.
Genetic counselors work in university medical centers, private and public hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and physicians’ offices. They work with families, patients, and other medical professionals. Most genetic counselors work full time.
How to Become a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, and board certification.
The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $81,880 in May 2019.
Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 21 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing technological innovations, including improvements in lab tests and developments in genomics, which is the study of the whole genome, are giving counselors opportunities to conduct more types of analyses.
Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and support to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.
Genetic counselors typically do the following:
- Interview patients to get comprehensive individual family and medical histories
- Evaluate genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific genetic disorders
- Write detailed consultation reports to provide information on complex genetic concepts for patients or referring physicians
- Discuss testing options and the associated risks, benefits, and limitations with patients, families, and other healthcare providers
- Counsel patients and family members by providing information, education, or reassurance regarding genetic risks and inherited conditions
- Participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in genetics and genomics
Genetic counselors identify specific genetic disorders or risks through the study of genetics. A genetic disorder or syndrome is inherited. For parents who are expecting children, counselors use genetics to predict whether a baby is likely to have hereditary disorders, such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, among others. Genetic counselors also assess the risk for an adult to develop diseases with a genetic component, such as certain forms of cancer.
Counselors identify these conditions by studying patients’ genes through DNA testing. Medical laboratory technologists perform lab tests, which genetic counselors then evaluate and use for counseling patients and their families. They share this information with other health professionals, such as physicians and medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.
According to a 2016 survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, most genetic counselors specialize in traditional areas of genetic counseling: prenatal, cancer, and pediatric. The survey noted that genetic counselors also may work in one or more specialty fields such as cardiovascular health, genomic medicine, neurogenetics, and psychiatry.
Genetic counselors held about 2,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of genetic counselors were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||43%|
|Offices of physicians||13|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||12|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||11|
Genetic counselors work with families, patients, and other medical professionals.
Most genetic counselors work full time and have a standard work schedule.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of genetic counselors.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans.
Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.
|See How to Become One||$46,910|
Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.
|Doctoral or professional degree||$88,790|
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome problems with family and other relationships.
Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.
|Doctoral or professional degree||This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.|
For more information about genetic counselors, certification, and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit
For more information about genetic counseling career requirements and developments in genetics, including licensure, visit
For more information about accreditation and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit
For a career video on genetic counselors, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Genetic Counselors,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm (visited ).