5 Things You Didn’t Know About Genetic Counselors


As we continue to spend the month showing our appreciation for genetic counselors, we’ve rounded up some cool things you may not know about members of this profession.

1. They have a large amount of training in genetics.

It’s true! While genetic counselors do not have medical degrees — they typically have master’s degrees in genetic counseling instead — their programs are laser-focused on genetics. In medical schools, the topic of genetics may be covered in just one class; enough to give young doctors some familiarity with the field. Genetic counselors, meanwhile, spend their entire master’s degree program diving into this topic, and they emerge with a tremendous depth and breadth of knowledge about how genomes, genes, and genetic variants influence health.

2. They don’t just ONLY think about genetics.

Even though genetics is their area of expertise, genetic counselors are also trained to pull in many other sources of data — such as detailed family health histories — that can be used to paint a more comprehensive picture of each patient’s health situation. Genetic data is useful, but it often has even more value when it’s presented in the context of other information, such as family history, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

3. In most states, they have to be licensed to practice.

While it’s not true for all states in the U.S., the majority of states require that anyone practicing as a genetic counselor get licensed. These licenses as well as certifications from genetic counseling associations demonstrate that a genetic counselor is legitimate and well-versed in the field.

4. They’re not there to push genetic testing on everyone.

Because genetic counselors are so closely linked to genetic tests, it’s natural to think that they always believe genetic testing is appropriate. That’s not the case. In fact, genetic counselors are trained to evaluate each patient’s unique situation and to help determine whether genetic testing makes sense. When it is a good fit for a patient, genetic counselors can offer advice on how to select the right test for what’s needed. Other times, the best advice a genetic counselor may give is that genetic testing is not useful for a particular scenario, recommending alternative ideas instead.

5. They don’t have a crystal ball.

Well, you probably knew that. But many people believe that results from a genetic test mean that a particular outcome is definitely going to happen — whether that’s developing Alzheimer’s disease or getting cancer. Most of the time, genetic results serve as an indicator rather than a definitive prediction. They’ll suggest that one person has higher or lower risk than average of developing cancer, for example, but no test can say with 100% certainty that a person will absolutely get cancer or will never get cancer. Genetic counselors can help patients understand these probabilities, and work with them on preventive measures they can take to reduce the chances of a negative outcome.

Previously, we looked into what the future holds for genetic counselors through expected developments in the field. Learn more here: https://myriad.com/future-of-genetic-counseling/