One of the most concerned and growing sector in the field of medical services is the Genetic counseling. In the present scenario, where probability of people going through the risk of inherited disorders is very high, genetic counseling is considered as a unique and important career opportunity. Young scientists who possess special training in the human genetics science and wish to use their knowledge for the benefit and betterment of patients may look forward to an amazing career in this field.
A developing profession
Although the number of genetic counselors is very small across the world, however, the future growth prospects of this profession are very high. In 1971, United States became the first country to provide special training to the genetic professionals. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of genetic counselors employed in the United States was 2400 in the year 2014. The number has gradually increased and currently almost 4000 genetic counselors are working in the United States and Canada, according to the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). The number is still very less in Europe.
Expansion of the profession
The need for genetic counselors is rapidly increasing and several major researches are underway to understand deeply the causes of occurrence of the rare inherited disorders because of genetic variations. The researchers are also working on various projects which deal with lifestyle and environmental factors that can influence complex diseases, like the Precision Medicine Initiative in the United States and the 100,000 Genomes Project in the United Kingdom. With the growing need for genetic counseling, steps are taken to make DNA analysis technologies more affordable and companies are also working towards providing genetic sequencing and testing services to the consumers. Because of all these advancements, the need for professionals who have the expertise and can help the patients to understand genetic disorders will also grow.
Challenges faced by Genetic counselors
The field of Genetics is very complex and is going through rapid changes. Specifically cancer genetics require the genetic counselors to understand their patients, improve their system of treatment and use their unique skills and knowledge effectively to develop prevention services for cancer. There has been a rapid increase in the number of genetic testing laboratories and multi-gene panels. In this case, these genetic professionals have to wisely guide their patients after effectively understanding their problems. They have to consider various things before coming up with the decision regarding cost of the test and clinical utility of the genes.
Problems with genetic testing counseling for breast cancer
Genetic testing for breast cancer is available on priority these days but then too because of lack of clinical communication and other factors, the genetic counselors fail to guide these high-risk patients. According to Journal of Clinical Oncology, several women with breast cancer undergo BLM, i.e, bilateral mastectomy and testing directly. They do not receive any guidance, personalized therapy and optimal care by the genetic counselors. Surveys are being conducted on patients, on their experiences with genetic testing and surgeons and on counseling the patients regarding these tests. The need for more detailed and broadened communication and guidance regarding genetic testing was realized by the surveys.
Career in genetic counseling
Employment opportunities have been increasing gradually in this profession all over the world. Patients are also relying on the guidance of genetic counselors, and then going ahead with the tests and treatments. The professionals can work in different areas and benefit many people across the globe. These fields include metabolic disease, prenatal, cardiovascular disease, neurology, cancer, pediatrics, infertility, genomic medicine, pharmacogenetics and others. Other than the clinical settings, their role is also extending to new responsibilities and applications like working in research, public and professional education, administration, public health, laboratory support, consulting, public policy and others.
Training and Development
A person who is keen to make a career in the field of genetic counseling needs to have very effective and remarkable communication and counseling skills apart from extensive medical knowledge and a deep understanding of the subject. 2-3 years master’s degree program is available in many countries to enable the learners possess the specific skill set pertaining to the specific training requirements. Sometimes real life experiences are also required for learners to be considered for admission.