Genetic counselors assess clients’ risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as birth defects. They review genetic test results with individuals and families and support them in making decisions based on those results. They also offer information to other healthcare providers.


Genetic counselors typically do the following:

  • Collect comprehensive family and medical histories through means such as interviews, discussions with physicians, and reviewing medical records
  • Evaluate genetic information to identify clients at risk for specific hereditary disorders
  • Document information from counseling sessions to send to clients or to referring physicians
  • Discuss testing options and the associated risks, benefits, and limitations with clients and other healthcare providers
  • Educate clients and provide information about genetic risks and inherited conditions
  • Provide psychological, emotional, or other support to clients distressed by test results
  • Research hereditary disorders and developments in the field of genetics

Genetic counselors identify hereditary risks through the study of genetics. Specifically, they study genetic disorders or syndromes that are inherited from one’s family. Prospective parents may consult genetic counselors to assess the risk of having children with hereditary disorders, such as cystic fibrosis. Genetic counselors also assess the risk for an individual to develop a disease, such as certain forms of cancer.

Counselors use DNA testing to identify clients’ inherited conditions. Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians perform lab tests, which genetic counselors then evaluate and use for counseling clients. They share this information with other healthcare providers, such as physicians.

Genetic counselors may focus on a particular area of genetic counseling, such as prenatal, cancer, or pediatric. They also may work in one or more specialty fields, such as cardiovascular health, genomic medicine, or psychiatry.

Work Environment

Genetic counselors held about 2,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of genetic counselors were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 51%
Offices of physicians 12
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private          7
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 6
Self-employed workers 2

Genetic counselors work with individuals, families, and other healthcare providers.

Work Schedules

Most genetic counselors work full time.

Education and Training

Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Nearly all states require genetic counselors to be licensed, and licensure usually requires board certification.


Genetic counselors typically need a master’s degree in genetic counseling. Admission to master’s degree programs varies. Some schools require a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, such as biology. Other programs require coursework in subjects such as biology, genetics, or statistics. Prospective students should check with an individual school regarding its requirements.

Genetic counseling programs typically take 2 years of postbaccalaureate study. A list of accredited programs is available from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

In addition to medical topics, coursework in genetic counseling focuses on client interaction and research. Students typically complete supervised clinical rotations that provide students an opportunity to work with clients in different clinical environments.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require genetic counselors to be licensed. Although requirements vary by state, licensure typically requires certification. For specific information, contact your state’s medical board.

The American Board of Genetic Counseling offers certification for genetic counselors. To become certified, candidates must complete an accredited master’s degree program and pass an exam. Counselors must complete continuing education courses to maintain board certification.

Even in states that do not require certification, employers may require or prefer that job candidates be certified or receive certification within a specified time after being hired.

Personality and Interests

Genetic counselors typically have an interest in the Thinking, Creating and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Creating or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a genetic counselor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Genetic counselors should also possess the following specific qualities:

Compassion. Patients seek advice on family care or serious illness, so genetic counselors must be sensitive and compassionate when communicating their findings.

Critical-thinking skills. Genetic counselors analyze laboratory findings to determine how best to advise a patient or family. They use their applied knowledge of genetics to assess inherited risks properly.

Decision-making skills. Genetic counselors must use their expertise and experience to determine how to disseminate their findings properly to their patients.

Speaking skills. Genetic counselors must communicate complex findings so that their patients can understand the magnitude of a health problem.


The median annual wage for genetic counselors was $80,150 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,120, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,070.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for genetic counselors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Medical and diagnostic laboratories $95,870
Hospitals; state, local, and private 79,810
Offices of physicians 79,360
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private          79,100

Most genetic counselors work full time.

Job Outlook

Employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 18 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 300 openings for genetic counselors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


Because genetic counselors is a small occupation, the fast growth is expected to result in only about 500 new jobs over the projections decade.

Ongoing technological innovations, including lab tests and developments in genomics, are giving counselors opportunities to conduct more types of analyses. Cancer genomics, for example, can determine a client’s risk for specific types of cancer. The number and types of tests that genetic counselors can administer and evaluate have increased over the past few years. Many types of genetic tests are covered by health insurance providers.

For More Information

For more information about genetic counselors, certification, and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit

American Board of Genetic Counseling

For more information about genetic counseling career requirements and developments in genetics, including licensure, visit

National Society of Genetic Counselors

For more information about accreditation and schools offering education in genetic counseling, visit

Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling




Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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