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Genetic Counselors

At a Glance

  • Counsel those with, or at risk for, genetic disorders or birth defects
  • Usually work at hospitals or private clinics
  • Constantly interact with patients
  • Have a master's degree
  • May need a license

Career summary

Genetic counselors help people answer questions about their genetics. They evaluate family history and medical records, order genetic tests, and evaluate the results.

Genetic counselors learn the medical history of the patient. They talk with patients and read medical records. They decide if genetic testing is necessary. Counselors refer patients to a doctor or laboratory for the actual tests.

Genetic counselors meet with patients and their family to discuss test results. It is important that counselors remain neutral when providing this information. This enables patients to make informed and independent decisions. Counselors talk about cases that were similar, explain possible outcome scenarios, and discuss treatment options.

Genetic counselors address any emotional issues raised by the results of genetic tests. They refer patients and families to community or state support services.

Genetic counselors work with people who want to have children. They may work with people already pregnant who suspect there might be genetic problems. Some patients come with a specific problem. They know they have a genetic disorder, such as Huntington's disease, and need information about it. Or they have a family history of heart disease or cancer and want more information. With the advancements in the field of genetics, this is an expanding discipline.

Most genetic counselors work in a medical setting as part of a health care team. They may also work in:

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to genetic counselors.

Common work activities

Genetic counselors perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, genetic counselors:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Genetic counselors frequently:

It is important for genetic counselors to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for genetic counselors to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Genetic counselors need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a genetic counselor, you typically need to:

Education after high school

To work as a genetic counselor you need to complete a Master's of Genetic Counseling (MGC) degree program. This graduate program is generally two years in length. You complete course work, laboratory work, research experience, and clinical experience. Course work combines the sciences with the social sciences and may include genetics, diseases prognosis and treatment, psychology, ethical issues, counseling, and bereavement. There are over 30 accredited genetic counseling programs in the US.

You need a bachelor's degree to be accepted into this program. Genetic counselors come from many majors, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health, and social work. It's helpful to have some counseling experience in addition to a science background.

Work experience

Observing or interning with a genetic counselor is a great way to get experience as well as help you with your application for the master's program. Gaining experience in a counseling setting, such as volunteering for a crisis hotline, is also valuable. Some programs require you have experience before applying.

On-the-job training

The last part of the master's program is usually clinical work. This will be in a board-approved medical genetics center. Clinical work will apply the science you have learned with the counseling part of the job.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer applicants who have relevant work experience. Internships and volunteer work are good ways to get experience. Some employers hire graduates who completed internships in their medical practice. Employers also look for people who are dedicated and have excellent communication skills.

Genetic counselors must keep their scientific skills up to date and at the same time, help patients through difficult and stressful periods in their life.

Costs to workers

Some workers join professional associations, which may have annual dues.


In Washington, genetic counselors must be licensed by the Department of Health. Currently, licensing requirements are:

Counselors must renew their license every year and complete 75 hours of continuing education every three years after their initial license renewal
The State licensing fee for genetic counselors is $200 for the application and $200 for annual license renewal. The ABGC certification examination cost is currently $900.

For more information contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Genetic Counselor Program (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7877

For more information about examinations and approved programs, see:

American Board of Genetic Counseling (external link)

#Updated cert exam fee 4/3/12 cj.Fees fine 3/28/13 lh. Added renewal info; fees still ok, 3/12/14 cj. updated state fees & exam fee 2/18/15 lh, exam fee 3/22/17 state fees okay. lh. Fees, licensing info ok, 4/2/18 cj. updated urls, all else fine 2/25/19



Genetic counselors (SOC 29-9092)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $32.60 $35.34 $40.07 $46.05 $49.78
Monthly $5,650 $6,124 $6,944 $7,980 $8,627
Yearly $67,800 $73,520 $83,350 $95,780 $103,540
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $33.29 $36.37 $41.55 $47.27 $51.04
Monthly $5,769 $6,303 $7,201 $8,192 $8,845
Yearly $69,246 $75,663 $86,429 $98,329 $106,170
    Vancouver Hourly $31.21 $34.47 $39.46 $46.64 $52.44
Monthly $5,409 $5,974 $6,838 $8,083 $9,088
Yearly $64,915 $71,703 $82,057 $97,011 $109,064
United States Hourly $25.36 $32.71 $38.64 $46.18 $51.66
Monthly $4,395 $5,669 $6,696 $8,003 $8,953
Yearly $52,750 $68,030 $80,370 $96,060 $107,450

Pay varies by employer, area of the country, and the worker's level of experience.

Genetic counselors who work full time may receive benefits. Typical benefits include health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Genetic counselors (SOC 29-9092)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 84 33.3% 16.1% 10
    King County 51 35.3% 19.6% 7
    Spokane County 11 18.2% 13.9% 1
United States 3,000 26.7% 5.2% 300

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is growing very fast. However, it is a very small occupation and very few new jobs will be created. As people become more aware of genetics and as genetic interventions develop, genetic counselors will experience growth in their field. More public awareness, coupled with scientific advances in adult disorders and reproductive technologies, have increased the demand for genetic counselors in clinical, teaching, administrative, commercial, private practice, and consulting environments.

Job prospects will be best for those with certifications.

Other resources

American Board of Genetic Counseling (external link)
4400 College Blvd. Suite 220
Overland Park, KS 66211
Explore Health Careers: Genetic Counselor (external link)
Genetics Education Center (University of Kansas Medical Center) (external link)
Genetics Society of America (external link)
6120 Executive Boulevard, Suite 550
Rockville, MD 20852
List of accredited genetic counseling programs (external link)
National Society of Genetic Counselors (external link)
330 North Wabash Avenue, Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60611
The American Society of Human Genetics (external link)
6120 Executive Blvd., Suite 500
Rockville, MD 20852


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

Holland occupational cluster