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How to Become a Geneticist

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Geneticists and genetic counselors research human genes and chromosomes, and help patients who suffer from conditions caused by genetic abnormalities. Clinical geneticists work in laboratories, perform genetic tests, interpret test results, do research and treat patients. The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics reports that recently hired clinical geneticists earned median annual salaries of $128,000 to $202,500 in 2011. Genetic counselors discuss genetic testing options, offer prevention tools and information about diseases, and provide counseling services to patients. They earned a median income of $56,800 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education for Geneticists

Clinical geneticists must have a medical degree or doctorate degree to become certified in genetics. Undergraduates should take classes in chemistry, biology, biochemistry or genetics. Continue your education in medical school or pursue a doctorate in human genetics. These graduate degree programs are rigorous, and admittance is competitive. You’ll need an excellent GPA, strong test scores and supporting letters of recommendation. Experience in the health care field, either with paid positions or volunteer work, is required for many programs. Medical students should specialize in genetics throughout their education and complete a residency program in clinical genetics. The American Board of Medical Genetics provides certification for both clinical and laboratory geneticists.

Certification for Geneticists

The American Board of Medical Genetics, or ABMG, provides certifications for clinical geneticists in four specialties. Physicians and laboratory scientists who wish to specialize and work in genetics must be accredited and board-certified. Clinical genetics certification is for physicians who work with patients who suffer from genetic disorders. Laboratory scientists may certify in clinical biochemical genetics, clinical cytogenetics or molecular genetics. To receive certification, you must complete a medical degree or Ph.D.; undergo training; and pass the the general exam and at least one specialty exam.

Education for Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors begin their career by completing an undergraduate degree. You don’t need to major in a science or math field, but you’ll need proficiency in those subjects to be successful in the field. Find a graduate program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. Admittance into a master’s in genetic counseling program typically requires a minimum 3.0 GPA., 70th percentile GRE scores, a strong personal statement and letters of recommendation. Ideally, candidates have advocacy experience that shows their commitment to working with people.

Genetic Counseling Certification

Once you’ve earned a master’s degree in genetic counseling, you’re eligible for certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Apply to sit for the exam and provide the board with transcripts. The certification exam is rigorous; more than 10 percent of applicants fail, according to the organization. Upon successful completion of the exam, you’ll receive certification, which provides credibility with employers, colleagues and patients. Genetic counselors are required to complete continuing education requirements to maintain certification.

2016 Salary Information for Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors earned a median annual salary of $74,120 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, genetic counselors earned a 25th percentile salary of $59,850, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,600, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 3,100 people were employed in the U.S. as genetic counselors.