by Emily Enns, M.S., Genetic Counselor

Genetic Counselors at Pathway GenomicsGenetic counselors can be great resources throughout the genetic testing process. In a series of blog posts in the upcoming months, we will explore the profession and its usefulness in the genetic testing process.

Multiple professional agencies, including the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) and the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) recommend that genetic testing should be pursued with the support of a knowledgeable professional, such as a genetic counselor, and it is understood that genetic counseling is an important and integral piece in the genetic testing process. It is easy to understand why, as genetic testing can quickly become complex, with some results leading to more questions than clear answers.

Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized degrees in medical genetics and counseling. A genetic counselor goes through a two-year program to receive a master’s degree in genetic counseling. There are currently 31 schools in the United States and six schools internationally that offer a master’s degree in genetic counseling. The profession requires extensive knowledge of human genetics, disease and inheritance and the graduate coursework prepares students through classes in human genetics, biochemical genetics, cytogenetics, and counseling skills. In these classes, students learn the basic concepts and then have the opportunity for real-world application through clinical rotations where the student, under supervision, takes on responsibilities of a genetic counselor guides patients through the testing process. In addition to a master’s degree, genetic counselors can also take a competency test through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) in order to become ABGC-certified. A genetic counselor may also be licensed by the state that they practice in.

The role and importance of genetic counselors are paramount for people who seek clear answers to their genetic test results. For more information and a better understanding of genetic counseling, we should refer to the NSGC, a professional organization for genetic counselors that has additional information and resources about genetic counseling. The NSGC defines genetic counseling as “the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.” The process of genetic counseling includes analyzing the medical history of the individual or family, as well as helping people understand genetics, genetic testing and genetic diseases and facilitating discussions regarding testing, results and how the individual or family will use the results to make future decisions. In addition to being an information resource for patients, genetic counselors can also be a resource to health care practitioners who may consult with these individuals in a different capacity — to treat the disease.

Pathway recognizes the crucial role of genetic counselors. To this point, Pathway offers genetic counseling free of charge to health care practitioners and their patients at any time during the genetic testing process. All of Pathway’s genetic counselors are board-eligible or certified by the ABGC. If you are interested in speaking with one of Pathway’s genetic counselors, simply contact our genetic counseling department at (877) 505-7374, or send an email to counselors@pathway.com.

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