A genetics counselor is a licensed health-care professional who provides expert patient and family education regarding genetic disorders. When a patient is diagnosed with a genetic condition, the counselor can explain the details of disease pathology, prognosis, symptom management techniques, and treatment options. He or she may also provide guidance to expecting parents who may be at risk of passing on a disorder to their child. Genetics counselors help people understand their conditions, find support, and make smart family planning decisions. Most professionals work in allied health centers and general hospitals, though some genetics counselors are self-employed consultants and clinical researchers.
An experienced genetic counselor can act as a liaison between the physician and the patient. He or she helps the patient make sense of a diagnosis and determine what needs to happen next. The counselor can document the patient's concerns and questions and relay them directly to the doctor. In addition, a counselor can set up meetings with social workers, psychologists, government assistant programs, and arrange other important resources for patients and their families to help them through tough times.
Many couples who have family histories of inherited disorders seek the services of a genetics counselor before trying to conceive a child. The counselor can carefully review their family trees, explain inheritance patterns, and order painless genetics tests to be performed on each partner. He or she analyzes test results and realistically explains the likelihood of passing on a certain trait to offspring. The couple can then make an informed decision about whether to have a child and accept the risks or decide to adopt instead.
The field of genetic research is constantly advancing. It is important for a genetics counselor to keep up-to-date on the latest developments in research and clinical techniques in order to provide their patients with the most accurate information. Professionals regularly read journals and speak with doctors, researchers, and other counselors to ensure their information is current. A genetics counselor needs to understand complex elements of biology, medicine, and psychology and be able to present facts to patients in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.
The requirements to become a genetics counselor can vary in different countries and regions, but most workers need to hold master's degrees or higher in the specialty. After earning a degree, a new counselor typically needs to participate in at least one year of supervised practice and pass a written exam in order to earn regional licensure. A genetics counselor who possesses the appropriate credentials and successfully completes training can begin working independently in hospitals, clinics, or private offices.