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What is a Genetic Counselor?

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Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. Genetic counselors interpret family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence, educate families about inheritance, management, prevention, resources and research, and provide counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to certain risks or conditions such as Down’s Syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle-Cell Anemia, among others.

Genetic counselors are employed in many settings such as university medical centers, community clinics, physician offices, health maintenance organizations, advocacy organizations, governmental agencies, public health departments and biotechnology companies. Those in clinical practice provide education and counseling in such areas as reproductive genetics, pediatric genetics, newborn screening follow-up, cancer genetics, neuro-genetics, and cardiovascular genetics. Many genetic counselors are also actively involved in teaching and clinical research. The profession is growing rapidly with the number of certified genetic counselors increasing over 400% since 1992.

As society’s knowledge of genetics continues to expand, genetic counselors are working in nearly all areas of healthcare. Specialty areas where genetic counselors are working with patients and physicians include:

  • Assisted Reproductive Technologies/Infertility
  • Cardiovascular Genetics
  • Familial Cancer Risk Counseling
  • Fetal Intervention & Therapy
  • Hematology
  • Metabolic Genetics
  • Neurogenetics
  • Pediatric Counseling
  • Personalized Medicine
  • Prenatal Counseling/Ultrasound Anomalies
  • Psychiatric Disorders

Genetic Counselors typically do the following:

  • Observe patients doing tasks and review medical history.
  • Counsel patients on how genetic conditions may affect them or their family.
  • They advocate for coverage of tests, policy, and privacy of genetic information
  • Use observations and history to evaluate condition and needs.
  • Create a treatment plan that includes activities and goals.
  • Demonstrate movements/activities that can help improve daily or work activities.
  • Evaluate home/workplace and make recommendations that will support health needs.
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