Ohio State now offers a two-year master’s degree in the expanding field of genetic counseling—a field that has grown by 400 percent since 1992. Using medical and family histories, genetic counselors assess disease risk, and help people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological, and familial implications.
They educate people about testing, prevention, research, management and resources. Some also are involved in research.
The program is one of only 34 accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. It’s available to students who want to combine their background in science with counseling skills. Graduates gain a unique foundation in the emerging genetic and genomic technologies combined with health care.
What makes a good genetic counselor? According to program director Dr. Heather Hempel, it takes good communication skills, empathy, and a desire to help others. “Genetic counseling is a great combination of science and psychology,” she explained. “It is one of the most rapidly growing fields and most genetic counselors have a job prior to graduation. It’s perfect for people who love genetics but would feel isolated doing laboratory work and would prefer to provide direct patient care. The training takes many fewer years than it does to become a physician but you still get to work in health care with patients. It provides a nice work-life balance, as there are rarely any genetic emergencies on evenings or weekends.”
Not surprisingly, a 2012 survey found that 91 percent of genetic counselors were satisfied or very satisfied with their job. Salaries range from $58,000 to $150,000.