Introduction to Genetic Counseling
There are now many medical branches of specialization such as oncology, pediatrics, cardiology, and various other specialties that are using more genomic data in the management of their patients. This makes genetic counseling increasingly important as more counselors are needed to provide information and communicate in a meaningful way with patients. Other than just having a conversation with the patients and family members involved, it is also the “process” of helping others understand and easing them into the adaptation process of medical, psychological, and familial implications of the contributions of genetics to disease. This enables the patient to incorporate the information into their lives, prepare to adjust to it, and prepare themselves on how they want to act on it and explain to their family members. Genetic counseling can be an emotional process as patients usually receive genetic counseling during their most vulnerable points in life, such as a faulty gene that may cause grief. Helping patients at that moment is the heart of what genetical counselor and clinical geneticists do.
Genetic counseling is usually prompted by a referral when there is positive family history that is hereditary such as:
· Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
· Cystic Fibrosis
· Huntington’s Disease
· And more.
There is often a strong emotional context as patients have often experienced the very same condition that other family members have gone through as well. They have to accept the idea that they will be living with the risk of developing the same condition and having to go through the same course of treatment and progression of disease throughout their lives. Some of the goals of the session includes:
· Helping the patient determine want to do about the genetic information that was just conveyed to them.
· Help patients involved if they want to give informed consent for genetic testing to know for certain if they have the gene that carries the disease.
· Help the patient to decide if they are ready to discuss their issues with the rest of their family, significant other, and subsequently close friends.
Geneticists have traditionally tried their best to determine if there is a single faulty gene that is responsible for the hereditary condition. As a genetic counselor, it is an internationally recognized career that helps define a group of professionals with qualifications, training and the registered competency to practice. Globally, genetic counselors usually have to go through a master’s program theoretically and practically in delivering genetic counseling while establishing core competencies to practice. The outcome usually defines their success.
Genetic counseling by:
i) Clinical geneticists – These professionals diagnose and manage patients with genetic disease clinically. The clinical geneticists perform and interpret the significance of a faulty gene and making an accurate diagnosis based on it.
ii) Genetic counselor – After the clinical geneticists have a clear diagnosis, genetic counselors have been trained specifically on how to support these patients psychosocially. The genetic counselor helps to explain patterns of inheritance, assessing how it impacts the family, helping with the burden of disease, and help the family adapt to new dynamics and communication.
iii) Other health counselors – For example, in cases where an obstetrician finds an anomaly after chorion villus sampling (CVS), they will also be explaining what the test results mean before referring the family to clinical genetics. In this case, the obstetrician is unlikely to explore how it affects the family or arranging for family screening. However, like other healthcare professionals, they will be empathetic and try their best to help the patient understand the significance of the results.
The main difference between clinical genetics and those in nonclinical genetics is that the healthcare and support is provided to the entire family (clinical genetics) compared to just the individual (nonclinical genetics).
A Career in Genetic Counseling
Genetic counseling can offer great career opportunities. In 2014, there is approximately 2400 genetic counselors employed in the United States. Combined, both the United States and Canada has more than 4000 certified professionals in this field. The field is increasingly growing. In the United Kingdom since the job first emerged in 1980s till the year 2011, there are only about 300 genetic counselors available. In Europe, the numbers are even smaller and none in some countries. There is great prospect for those interested in the career as genetic variations are now used to understand more common and complex diseases. In the United States, there is a predicted 29% growth rate for genetic counseling jobs between the years 2014-2024 compared to an average of only 7% to all other occupations. Employment opportunities are also increasing all across Europe and the United Kingdom.
A career in genetics may be a great idea since it is a fast-growing field that is increasingly utilized in many branches or research and medicine. Training requirements require a 2 to 3-year master’s degree program that can be found in United States, Canada, Europe, and United Kingdom.