By Sharon Wiatt Jones
Your sweet spot is biology, but you are so much more. Not excited about working in a lab or wearing a stethoscope? Combine your science aptitude and passion with other skills and at least a master’s degree to enter these careers:
Genetic counselor, Medical illustrator, Biostatistician, Health educator, Pharmacogenomicist
Let’s start with the first one in the series - Genetic Counseling. Over 40% of people have genetic factors that could predict diseases. Examples include: susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, mental illness, autism and other developmental disorders, ancestry and predisposition to cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, and sickle cell anemia. Scientists are also discovering how genes interact with the environment, diet, and fitness.
What Genetic Counselors Do: These counselors identify patients’ genetic risks after analyzing the results of clinical testing and family medical history. They explain options and help people make choices consistent with their risk factors and values. In 90% of their interactions, genetic counselors deliver good news to patients. However, they are also trained in grief and crisis counseling for individuals and their family members. They often collaborate with medical professionals in a team environment.
Reasons for Considering a Career in Genetic Counseling: Inclusion in a list of emerging occupations based on technological breakthroughs in the Human Genome Project, delayed childbirth, and an aging population; projections for substantial job growth; high job satisfaction ratings (nearly 90%); compensation with potential above $100,000 (depending on sector of employment).
Educational Requirements: A master’s degree in human genetics and genetic counseling is necessary to become a genetic counselor. Those accepted to graduate school programs typically have completed a bachelor’s degree in science (biology, chemistry, genetics), allied health (nursing, public health) or a social science (psychology, social work) with a 3.5 or higher GPA. Competitive applicants tend to have work or volunteer experience related to advocacy, counseling, research, or health. Currently, 27 U.S. universities offer a master's degree in genetic counseling. These programs include courses in science, counseling, and clinical rotations. Most genetic counselors become board certified.
Types of Employers: Hospitals and private medical practices; universities and medical centers; research and commercial labs; pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and personal genomics companies; nonprofit organizations and government agencies; healthcare consulting firms; educational and medical websites.
Common Specializations: Cancer; personalized medicine; neuropsychiatric; infertility; prenatal; fetal intervention and therapy; pediatric and clinical; cardiovascular.
Salaries: A 2012 survey of genetic counselors revealed an average salary of $68,000, with potential of $170,000 based on specialization and years of experience. Some of those working in business also received profit-sharing and stock options. Among survey respondents, 77% of them provided direct patient care. Other roles included management, research (such as clinical trials), faculty appointments, and patient education.
More Information: Speak with a college or alumni career counselor at your institution. View websites of the National Human Genome Research Institute : http://www.genome.gov; American Board of Genetic Counseling, Inc. http://www.abgc.net/; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/default.htm.This is an exciting time to choose a career related to life sciences. The next blog will be about medical illustration.