Not All Genetic Counselors See Patients
Genetic Counselors (GCs) are becoming common in all fields of medicine, from prenatal, to oncology, to cardiology. But did you know that we’re also deeply involved in areas behind the scenes, too? More and more GCs have roles that don’t involve seeing patients directly, but we’re still intimately involved in patient care. The uniquely specialized training that GCs have has proved useful in many settings.
Having clinical training makes GCs suited to assist in data interpretation and report writing of genetic tests. Clinical genetic laboratories often employ teams of GCs to assist in variant classification. These GCs are DNA detectives, searching for evidence in various databases and medical literature to help determine whether a genetic variant may be the cause of a condition, or just a meaningless finding. Because they are trained to translate complicated genetic information into understandable language, they also assist in drafting reports that providers and patients can understand.
GCs in large medical institutions or clinical laboratories are often charged with reviewing genetic test orders for appropriateness. Genetic testing is very complicated, and sometimes providers may order the wrong test, or a less effective test by mistake. GCs have collectively helped save millions of dollars in unnecessary medical costs by helping providers choose the best test for their patients.
Many laboratories employ GCs to provide clinical support to providers. This can be in the form of client service positions, where they help MDs and GCs with complicated cases, or in account management, ensuring that their clients’ laboratory needs are being met by the company. The latter often involves travel to meet with those clients.
A research project, such as a thesis, is required to attain a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling in all of the programs in the US. Many GCs go on to use that experience to perform research studies after graduation. This may be their primary role, or something focused on part-time aside from their primary duties. GCs are often involved in recruiting participants, writing protocols and consent forms, analyzing data, drafting manuscripts, and publishing results.
The use of Genetic Counselors has expanded greatly since the establishment of the first graduate program in 1969. We are able to do meaningful, interesting, and important work across all aspects of genetic services. It’s exciting to see where advances in the field will lead us in the future.