Average Salary:

$51,279 according to www.payscale.com

Training in Alabama:

The University of Alabama – Birmingham is preparing to open a program soon.

Currently none.

“I choose this career because I really enjoy the fast pace changes of science and genetics and I like to help people. I wanted a career that would allow me to be in healthcare but I was not interested in being a physician or nurse or working in a research laboratory setting.”
Career Interview:
Briefly describe your career as a genetic counselor.
Genetic counseling is a career that provides opportunities to work in many different settings with a wide variety of people. I started my career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as a clinical genetic counselor working with families and individuals with a genetic condition or at risk for a genetic condition. I now am the program director for the new genetic counseling program at UAB.

What type of environment do you work in?
I work at UAB in the Department of Genetics as a genetic counselor and in UAB’s School of Health Professionals as a program director. In the Department of Genetics I work with medical geneticists and nurses in a clinical setting that just like a regular doctor’s office. We see patients that have been referred to us because there is a possibility that they could have a genetic condition. We also help take care of people that have known genetic conditions.
As a program director, my primary responsibilities are teaching and development of the new genetic counseling program at UAB. I work in an office setting with other professors and instructors. I teach classes about genetics and genetics in healthcare to students in our school.

Describe a typical workday.
When I am in the clinic I usually meet with three to four patients and their families in a half day. Prior to meeting with them I review all the records related to why they have been referred to see us. I often discuss the case with physicians to review my plan for the patient. When I meet with a patient I take a detailed medical history and family history to create a family tree or pedigree. I talk to the patient about why they have been referred to see us, the role of genetics in their particular condition, inheritance patterns, possible reasons for their medical findings, and possible genetic testing if needed. I help families deal with the difficult feelings they may have about their condition. I also help them find support groups and additional information that is helpful to manage their condition. In many cases, a patient will also meet with a physician for a physical exam and for more information about their condition. After the visit I help arrange any of the genetic testing that was recommended and write a letter back to the referring doctor and family summarizing the visit. When a patient’s test results are completed I review them with the doctor and contact the patient to discuss the results. Some of our patients are seen only once or twice times, while other families we see yearly for many years. When I am not seeing patients I am preparing courses and lectures for students about genetics and genetic counseling. I also have numerous administrative and scientific meetings during the week that I attend.

What type of education and experience is required for a career as a genetic counselor?
Genetic counselors have a master’s of science degree in genetic counseling from a program that is accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). The programs are two years in length. Students take classes in the principles of genetics, medical genetics, counseling skills and complete extensive clinical rotations to prepare them to provide patient care when they graduate. After graduation, genetic counselors take a board exam to insure that their skills and knowledge are appropriate for their field.

At this time, there are 31 genetic counseling programs that are accredited by the ABGC. You do not have to have a specific undergraduate degree to go to graduate school in genetic counseling, but most people have a degree in a science related field. Many counselors go to graduate school right after completing undergraduate.  It is important that you gain experiences during undergraduate school that will prepare you for the program.  People often will shadow a genetic counselor, volunteer at for a crisis hotline or similar service or work in a genetics lab or with people with a genetic disease.  Each program also has specific course prerequisites for admissions.

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a minor in genetics from North Carolina State University and a master’s of science degree in genetic counseling from the University of South Carolina.

Why did you choose this career?
I choose this career because I really enjoy the fast pace changes of science and genetics and I like to help people. I wanted a career that would allow me to be in healthcare but I was not interested in being a physician or nurse or working in a research laboratory setting.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
My favorite parts of my job are helping families understand their genetic condition or predisposition and teaching genetics to other healthcare professionals. Often times I am one of only a few people families have ever met that has heard of their condition and can help them understand the condition. Many families have a difficult time understanding all of the medical information and tests results they are giving. I enjoy being able to sit down with them and helping them make sense of it all. I also enjoy helping other healthcare providers understand how genetics fits into all areas of medicine.

The most frustrating part of my job is when we cannot figure out if a condition is genetic or not. It makes it difficult for us to provide clear medical guidance and support for these families.

Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom for high school students interested in a career in your field?
I think that genetic counseling is a field that will continue to grow and the types of roles that genetic counselors fill in healthcare will continue to evolve as genetic testing and counseling become a part of all areas of medicine. I suggest for any student that is interested in healthcare and genetics consider genetic counseling. Visiting the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the ABGC can provide more background information about the field. And for students that are seriously interested, they should try and shadow a genetic counselor while in college to find out more about the field.

Are there any other career opportunities in your field you think students should be aware of?
Many genetic counselors work in university hospitals like UAB but there are also many counselors in private hospitals, research laboratories, private clinical testing laboratories, teaching positions and some are in positions with the government organizations like the Center for Disease Control. Training in genetic counseling allows for many flexible career paths.
R. Lynn Holt, M.S., C.G.C.
Genetic Counselor, Department of Genetics