What is the Scope of an MS in Human Genetics?

Introduction of the Scope of an MS

Genetic counseling is a young industry with very few PhD graduates who have transitioned into the field. This makes the knowledge of genetic education requirements in the field important as it can present exciting options to scientists who want to help patients by using their genetic knowledge while still being active in the research field. Around the world today, there are still a very small number of genetic counselors. According to the U.S. Bureaus of Labor Statistics, there are only 2400 genetic counselors that are employed in the United States. The American Board of Genetic Counseling also found that there are only approximately 4000 certified professionals in the genetic counseling field in United States and Canada. United States had the introductory class graduating in 1971 and was the first country to have trained these professionals. Other figures in other countries include:

  • Genetic counseling first started in United Kingdom (UK) in early 1980s.

  • As of 2011, there are only 300 genetic counselors in UK. 

  • There are 75 genetic counselors in France.

  • Netherlands has 65 genetic counselors.

  • In Norway, there are 17 counselors.

  • Denmark has 15 counselors.

  • 10 counselors are in Sweden.

  • Other countries such as Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland have a handful.

  • Countries such as Germany, Italy, and many more has none. 


There is a great future for the field and profession as there are many research efforts that are targeted to help the understanding of genetic variations and how it affects human health. Major research such as the 100,000 Genomes Project in the UK and Precision Medicine Initiative in the US aim to understand how rare inherited diseases or cancer interact with our environment and other various factors. With more companies offering genetic testing services, DNA analysis is becoming more affordable. With the evolvement of technology, more professionals are needed to translate the information and data and apply it clinically while still being able to navigate through legal and ethical issues that follow.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 29% growth for genetic counseling jobs compared to other occupations that only has an average rate of 7% between the years of 2014-2024. It is a time where individuals who have a master’s degree in genetic counseling are free to pick what they would like to do. In Europe, employment opportunities are increasing. There are simply not enough genetic counselors to meet the demands of the market. In France, although there are 75 genetic counselors currently, it still is not enough and there are plenty of vacant positions. 

More medical departments and work environments such as prenatal and pediatric care, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pharmacogenetics and more are also requiring genetic counselors. Although traditionally found in clinical settings, they are now also much needed in diagnostic laboratories, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Potential roles include:

  • Research

  • Public awareness and health

  • Professional education

  • Administration

  • Laboratory support

  • Public policy

  • Consultation services

More often than not, many genetic counselors often have the opportunity to be involved academically as a big portion have research, teaching, and clinical faculty appointments previously. A tenure for an academic position can however, be challenging as many counselors prefer to continue seeing patients making it hard for them to balance their duties. Regardless, now is a wonderful time for those who want to do both clinical and research work.


A genetic counselor should have a great understanding of genetics, superior medical knowledge, clinical experience, and superior communication and counseling skills. In most countries, the requirements to be a genetic counselor includes a 2-3 years master’s degree program. Although employment opportunities have increased, the admission into training options are now more limited and competitive. There are 3 and 33 accredited genetic counseling master’s programs in Canada and US respectively and approximately only 30% of applicants to these programs were accepted in the year 2010. In the UK and Europe, there is a significant variation in the training provided but attempts have been made to improve and synchronize the training across the globe. The European Board of Medical Genetics have recently recognized 6 approved programs.

Most of the admissions committee for these programs hope to see that the applicants know what they are getting into, so they can demonstrate an understanding of the profession. To get to know the profession better, interested individuals should visit websites that introduces the job and contacting program directors and genetic counselors to understand the requirements and job better. This will also help them to develop a sense if it is really for them. Most programs also require their applicants to have provided one-on-one support or have worked in a clinical environment. Some applicants volunteer with crisis hotlines, or worked in domestic abuse shelters. Shadowing other genetic counselors are also a good option as it helps them to feel comfortable working with patients. 

Benefits of Obtaining the Master’s Degree

Having to invest an extra 2-3 years for another degree can be frustrating but these are the following benefits:

  • Learning an entirely different set of skills

  • Broadening your scientific knowledge

  • Useful if you opt to pursue a research career in the future

  • Some programs have tuition benefits and financial deals

  • Some programs offer salaries and over tuition fees




As the field continues to grow and evolve, more job opportunities and options become available. With the advancement of technology, more professionals will be needed as the understanding of the human genome is increasingly important in the clinical application. Many established professionals hope that more will join the field to meet the growing demands and needs of patients. 


Science Mag : Genetic counseling: A growing area of opportunity