Many genetic counselors will know this occurrence. We go to a BBQ or other social event where we meet new people for the first time. Inevitably the question is asked, “so Matt, what do you do?” I reply with “I’m a genetic counselor”. It is most often met with blank stares. Some make the joke “oh, so you counsel jeans, huh?” and a few say “oh, I’ve seen a genetic counselor before” and begin to tell me their personal medical and family history. But for a job that not everyone knows about, it is a great profession. For several years now, U.S. News has been coming out with a list of the best jobs in the nation. This year’s results saw genetic counseling #7 in healthcare jobs and #36 overall, which means genetic counseling is becoming a more popular job. If you are like me and like talking, science, and working in a caring profession, genetic counseling might be for you.
Who Should be a Genetic Counselor?
At the moment, one of the issues in the genetic counseling arena is the lack of diversity in the profession. More than 95% of genetic counselors are younger, Caucasian, Christian women. As a male Australian genetic counselor who is half African, I really fall into that 1% of genetic counselors in the U.S. So, my first piece of advice for an aspiring genetic counselor is, no matter what your ethnic, cultural, linguistic background, your sexual orientation, or religion, if you have a strong background in science and are interested in working with people, give genetic counseling a shot. It could be the right profession for you.
Genetic Counseling Transformation
Genetic technology is constantly changing and evolving, so if you are not comfortable with change, then genetic counseling might not be the best profession for you. When I first started practicing in 2005, we were still testing one gene at a time. Not long after this, we were able to test multiple genes on a panel at once. Now, we are able to test a person’s whole exome, and even their whole genome, in one test at the same time. Another huge change I have seen is the increased use of non-invasive prenatal testing or NIPT. This was not available when I was a genetic counseling student. Now most women in the U.S. are offered NIPT testing with each pregnancy. Don’t be overwhelmed with all this information though. Genetic counselors can’t and don’t need to remember everything, but they are good investigators and are able to find the relevant information in the scientific literature.
Characteristics of a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors on average are warm, intelligent, curious people who love working in a caring profession. As a new graduate genetic counselor, I thought I would have to work in a hospital setting for the rest of my career. I had no idea what adventures my chosen career would take me on. Professionally, I have been able to work in different states in Australia and now in a different country. I have been lucky enough to travel to different countries to attend genetic counseling conferences. I opened a private practice and have worked for laboratories and directly in the industry. All of that being said, being open to new possibilities is a good piece of advice for an aspiring genetic counselor.
Most genetic counselors remember the first genetic counselor they ever spoke to. So, if you are considering undertaking studies to become a genetic counselor, reach out to one. And if you can’t find one, reach out to me!
To find out more about genetic counseling, check out: https://www.aboutgeneticcounselors.org/
About Baylor Genetics
Improving healthcare is at the core of who we are at BG. Through continuous innovation and research, our team is equipped to provide physicians the best results for their patients. We are able to diagnose rare diseases and disorders because of our existing large-scale, high-throughput capabilities and our CLIA-certified, CAP–accredited laboratory. At BG, we believe when you invest and take care of your employees, great things happen.
To learn more about our genetic tests, visit baylorgenetics.com
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