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 obtain comprehensive individual family and medical histories
Evaluate genetic information to identify patients or families at risk for specific genetic risks
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 and families
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. For more information, see the profiles on medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and physicians and surgeons.
According to a 2014 survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors, approximately three-fourths of genetic counselors work in traditional areas of genetic counseling: prenatal, cancer, and pediatric. The survey noted that the number of specialized fields for genetic counselors has increased. More genetic counselors are specializing in fields such as cardiovascular health, genomic medicine, neurogenetics, and psychiatry.