Career Comparison: Genetic Counselor vs. Clinical Geneticist

Genetics and genomics are currently, and have been, a hot topic in science and medicine. Several career paths are available to those interested in the field of genetics, such as becoming a genetic counselor or a clinical geneticist. Both of these careers are constantly expanding to improve and advance the state of healthcare and our understanding of genetics as a whole, however, there are key differences between these two genetics experts.

Clinical geneticists are specialized physicians who are responsible for the care of patients in a clinic, private practice, or hospital, and are often involved with translational or clinical research. After obtaining a medical degree (MD, DO), clinical geneticists must complete a two-year residency training in medical genetics and genomics, and must earn certification from the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG). By the end of their training, clinical geneticists are experts in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating genetic conditions in patients of all ages. Additional training is available to those who wish to further specialize in areas including clinical biochemical genetics, laboratory genetics, cytogenetics, and molecular genetics. Clinical geneticists often lead medical genetics healthcare teams, working in close collaboration with genetic counselors, physician assistants, nurses, and more.

Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who obtain advanced training in medical genetics and counseling to guide and educate patients seeking to learn about how genetic disease may impact themselves and their families. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practice, laboratories, and public health, delivering genetic education, and interpreting genetic tests. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field, genetic counselors must complete a master’s degree program that has earned accreditation. Eligible graduate students from master’s programs can obtain board certification via the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Genetic counselors usually, but not always, work in collaboration with a clinical geneticist or other physicians in the evaluation and treatment of genetic disease. It is common practice for genetic counselors to specialize in one specific medical field such as prenatal care, cancer, or cardiovascular care. However, many genetic counselors are now entering industry in roles such as a Medical Science Liaison.

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