“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart. Pursue these.”
– Michael Nolan
I recently had the opportunity to talk with journalist Turna Ray on the Sequenced podcast about the profession of genetic counseling — one that has absolutely captured my heart. Genetic counselors have specialized graduate degrees and experience in medical genetics and counseling, making us experts at interpreting and explaining complex genetic information, while providing emotional support to our patients. Sure, I’m a bit biased, but I can’t think of a career in health care that better combines the high-tech and the high-touch. Genetic counselors are using the exciting advances in genomics to improve patient care, ensuring that patients and their families can understand how genetic information affects their health and supporting them as they integrate this information into their medical care.
As President of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), the professional organization that supports genetic counselors across the country, I get to think about what is next for genetic counselors and what we need to do have the best future possible. One of the most important things that will keep our profession at the leading edge of genomics and personalized medicine is training more brilliant, diverse and enthusiastic future genetic counselors. There are many great resources that talk about how to become a genetic counselor, including some at the end of this blog. I want to show you what genetic counselors report about our profession and why this is such an exciting, rewarding and satisfying career.
Growth and Opportunity for New Graduates
The genetic counseling profession has grown by over 100% in the last 10 years and is expected to grow another 75% in the next 10 years. Genetic counseling has consistently been recognized as one of the most rapidly-growing specialty professions in health care. Just this year, it was also highlighted as one of the “Top 10 Biotech Jobs Most in Demand over the Next Decade” by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.
The 2018 Professional Status Survey (PSS) conducted by NSGC also tells a fantastic story about job opportunities for new graduates. We asked genetic counselors who graduated in 2016 and 2017 about their experiences finding a job. 87% accepted their first genetic counseling position before graduation, and seven out of ten of those had accepted their position one to three months before graduating. Regardless of when they accepted their position, every recent graduate reported that they had a job, indicating 100% employment upon graduation from genetic counseling training programs.
The PSS also tells us that genetic counselors are satisfied in their profession, whether they work in direct patient care or in other areas of genetic counseling. 94% of genetic counselors who responded to the 2018 PSS reported they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the genetic counseling profession overall. Some of the areas that were ranked highest in satisfaction for all genetic counselors were patient contact/counseling, scientific content, professional growth, including learning, teaching and leadership opportunities and respect from the medical, business and other communities. Additionally, 98% of respondents reported that they were planning to remain in the genetic counseling profession in 2018–2019.
Only 1% of respondents to the 2018 PSS reported being unemployed for any period of time in 2016 or 2017 and more than half of these genetic counselors left their employment by choice. The primary reasons that they reported leaving their employment were staying at home to raise a family, taking time off between graduate school and work, and starting a business.
The other unbeatable thing about genetic counseling is our community of genetic counselors. NSGC’s mission is to advance the various roles of genetic counselors in health care by fostering education, research, and public policy to ensure the availability of quality genetic services. NSGC is a volunteer organization, so our ability to achieve this mission lies directly in the hands of our members. Our many successful activities every year and the increasing recognition of our profession highlights our highly engaged community. At the end of 2017, NSGC had more than 3,600 members and more than 1,000 member volunteers.
So, if I’ve piqued your interest to learn more about the profession and community that I love, there are many ways to dive deeper and to learn more. Here are a few of my favorites to learn more about becoming a genetic counselor and to hear the personal perspectives of current, student, and aspiring genetic counselors alike!
· Aspiring genetic counselor Nicole is sharing her experiences preparing for a genetic counseling program on her blog, acaffeinatedgc.blogspot.com. Her most recent post shares her helpful suggestions and the basics for getting started.
· Future genetic counselor Kira Dineen (Sarah Lawrence Class of 2020) hosts the DNA Today podcast and radio show. She has interviewed many genetic counselors and other experts in genomics about their experiences and their work.
· Follow us on Twitter! I have an #IAmAGeneticCounselor list on my Twitter page (@ERamosSD) with some suggestions, including Nicole and Kira, and we often use #GCchat to tag our tweets.
· Read the NSGC blog. This is one of the many ways that NSGC shares information with our community and the public. One of my favorite recent posts is from Jay Flanagan, NSGC’s preconception and prenatal expert and a genetic counselor at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, SD. He shares his experience of finding his calling as a genetic counselor, even when he didn’t see many who looked like him.
· Check out NSGC’s website, aboutgeneticcounselors.com. There are great resources for future genetic counselors, including our Find A Genetic Counselor search tool. There is a specific option for student contact, so find someone in your area and connect!
This blog post is not an endorsement of Color by the National Society of Genetic Counselors.