Biotech In-Demand Job: Genetic Counselor


Our recent article describing six prominent careers in the biopharma industry was well-received by both college students and current biopharma professionals. As the first installment in a six-part series, we present an in-depth review of a rewarding career as a genetic counselor.

Overview of a Genetic Counselor Career

As highly trained specialists, genetic counselors detect the risk factors for a wide variety of hereditary disorders and diseases. The biopharma professionals conduct comprehensive screening tests, as well as offer educational and counseling services to patients and the families of patients. Genetic counselors play a vital role in guiding patients towards receiving health care that is right for their unique situations.

Here is what you can expect working as a genetic counselor in 2019:

Education Requirement-At least a Master’s degree

Additional occupational requirements-Some states require a license to work as a genetic counselor

Median Salary $80,370

Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)-27%

Job Description

If you enjoy working in different environments, then you should enjoy working as a genetic counselor. These biopharma industry professionals spend time in universities, hospitals, private clinics, and non-profit run laboratories. They receive extensive training to perform genetic data analysis that leads to scientifically drawn conclusions that allow patients and their families to discover specific genetic risk factors. A patient whose family has a history of suffering from a debilitating disease can benefit from an analysis that identities predispositions for disease disorders such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis.

Genetic counselors receive extensive training to perform the following vocational tasks:

  • Meet with patients to learn more about medical histories
  • Assist patients in coping with a medical diagnosis
  • Present highly detailed reports that explain difficult genetic concepts to patients
  • Meet with patients and their families to talk about the options available for conducting genetic tests
  • Accurately assess test results stemming from laboratory work
  • Identify the risk factors for diseases and disorders
  • Present educational information concerning health risks
  • Provide counseling services that include reassuring families about the safety of genetic testing

According to a study released by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, around two-thirds of genetic counselors work in the areas of cancer, prenatal, and pediatric predisposition testing. The study emphasized the number of specialties within the biopharma field has increased since the turn of the new millennium. Research has attributed the increase to the rapid advancement in genetic testing technology.

What are the Educational Requirements for a Genetic Counselor?

Everyone that pursues a career as a genetic counselor must earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Because there are just a small number of accredited master’s degree programs in the United States, the selection process for admissions is highly competitive. This means applicants into a genetic counselor degree program at the master’s level must submit academic credentials that rank at the top of the list for their peers.

You can expect to learn about the following academic topics in a master’s degree program for a genetic counselor career:

  • Birth defects
  • Prenatal diagnosis
  • Genetic screening
  • Molecular genetics research
  • Different methods for conducting research
  • Types of counseling techniques


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Licensing and Certification

Several states require genetic counselors to fulfill licensing criteria. Licensing requirements typically involve submitting documents that verify work and educational experience, as well as prove a candidate has passed a state approved examination. The states requiring licensing establish the length of time the licenses are valid. If you live in a state that has mandated licensing, you might have to participate in continuing education classes to keep your license.

With 31 programs available for genetic counselors working in the United States, the American Board of Genetic Counseling handles the certification process for genetic counselors. Students enrolled in certification programs must pass a test that addresses a comprehensive list of skills. As with most state licensing requirements, certification requires genetic counselors to enroll in continuing education courses. Most state licenses require certification as a genetic counselor, before you can go through the licensing process.

What Personality Traits Do You Need as a Genetic Counselor?

Although the education component of becoming a genetic counselor requires a deep commitment to academic advancement, you also need to possess a number of personality traits to thrive in this occupation. Following the criteria listed in the Holland Code, successful genetic counselors possess personality traits that cover three broad areas: Thinking, creating, and helping.

The three broad areas of personality traits leads to specific traits that are just as important as the educational requirements for this biopharma position.

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Critical analysis
  • Decision making
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Innovation

Salary and Job Outlook

Breakthroughs in genetic research have created an incredible demand for genetic counselors. Rapidly growing technological advancements that include enhancements for laboratory testing equipment are producing more opportunities for genetic counselors to develop new testing techniques. As of May 2018, the high demand for this profession helped genetic counselors earn a median salary of $80,370, which translates to around $39 per hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the occupation will grow by 27% between 2018 and 2028, which makes the field one of fastest-growing fields of any industry.

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