What Do Geneticists Do?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

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Study Genes and Support Your Family in a Growing Field

Geneticists are scientists who study human genes and work as genetic counselors or clinical geneticists. Genetic counselors assess the risk of genetic diseases and use the information to collaborate with other health care professionals and inform patients. Clinical geneticists are physicians who treat people with a wide range of genetic diseases or medical concerns that cause changes to the DNA. If you are passionate about health care, the study of genes and want to provide a solid income to support your children, a career as a geneticist could be enjoyable and rewarding.

Job Description

Genetic counselors help patients assess risk of genetic and inherited diseases. They assess genetic information, counsel patients about testing options, communicate with the medical team, and compile reports based on their findings and current research. They often serve expectant parents who are concerned about inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. Based on medical records and other findings, they can help parents determine the risks and plan the best course of action for themselves and their baby. Genetic counselors normally enjoy regular business hours and full benefits, a major help when you are raising little ones.

Clinical geneticists are physicians who treat people who have inherited conditions like Alzheimer's disease, Down Syndrome and other genetic diseases. They also treat people who are experiencing cancer and other conditions that affect the DNA. These specialized physicians are able to order appropriate tests, review results with their patients and help formulate treatment plans. Clinical geneticists often work on teams with other physicians and medical professionals, so teamwork skills are essential in providing excellent care. Clinical geneticists often work unpredictable or long hours, like other physicians, but the generous salary could come in handy when planning a financial future for your family.

Education Requirements

To enter the field, genetic counselors need a master's degree in genetic counseling or genetics and must also earn board certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Certification involves sitting for an examination following graduation from an accredited genetic counseling program.

Clinical geneticists are specialized physicians who study for many years before entering the profession. Following a bachelor's degree, clinical geneticists complete four years of medical school, a two-year general residency and then sit for the medical licensing exam in their state of residence. Once licensed, they must complete a specialty residency in genetics for up to four more years before taking the certification exam administered by the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics.

Occasionally, geneticists work as researchers who conduct research about genes, how they change, what affects them, and genetic diseases and disorders. These geneticists, as well as professors, generally hold doctoral degrees in the field, and many are clinical geneticists who have chosen to move to a career in teaching.

The median annual salary for genetic counselors is $74,120, which means that half earn more than this amount, while the other half earns less. After many years of education, clinical geneticists enjoy a higher median salary of $153,228. Professors can expect to earn a median income of $75,430 per year, but they also enjoy more flexible hours and regular school breaks. The bottom 10 percent of genetic counselors earns less than $45,540, while the top 10 percent of clinical geneticists earns more than $240,000. With such a wide range of incomes in the field of genetics, consider your educational path and financial goals carefully before beginning your studies.

About the Industry

Most geneticists work in medical settings like hospitals and medical offices. Those in research settings spend a lot of time in the lab, while professors may split their time between classroom settings, labs and hospitals. Genetic counselors in medical offices and professors normally work the most family-friendly schedules, with hours that are easy to coordinate with child care.

Years of Experience

Salaries vary wildly in this field, but experience increases pay over time in all positions. One projection for genetic counselors looks like this:

  • 1–2 Years: $66,000–$69,984
  • 3–4 Years: $68,451–$72,513
  • 5–6 Years: $69,984–$74,412
  • 7 or More Years: $70,495–$75,006

Clinical geneticists can look forward to a salary of approximately $60,852–$265,483. Those in busy metropolitan areas or at high-profile institutions can expect to earn more.

Job Growth Trend

Job opportunities for genetic counselors are expected to increase by a whopping 29 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than in other industries and is due to new technologies that make the study of DNA easier to conduct. Job opportunities for physicians are expected to increase by 13 percent over the next decade, which is also faster than average and is due to an aging and growing population. Opportunities for postsecondary teachers are expected to increase by 15 percent, because more people are seeking higher education. No matter which way you go with your career in genetics, you are likely to find opportunities for stable employment to support your family.