Genetic counseling offers fascinating opportunities

An interest in public health led Lindsey Kelley to a cutting-edge career that should keep her in demand for years to come. The 32-year-old Bay Path University student is studying to be a genetic counselor, a field that involves assessing individuals for certain inherited conditions and providing information, advice, counseling, and support to patients at risk for a genetic disorder.

“I think the field is exciting and that keeps me motivated,” she says of the career, which is expected to grow by 29 percent through 2026 as genetic testing becomes cheaper and more available to the public. “It’s up-and-coming, constantly changing, and it seems the job prospects are there.”

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So is the money. The national Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median wage for genetic counselors is more than $74,000 with top earners making more than $100,000.

A master’s degree is required. That’s where schools like Bay Path University and the MGH Institute of Health Professions can help. Both schools have developed 21-month programs that result in a Masters of Science Degree in Genetic Counseling.

Bay Path University in Springfield, which began taking students into its genetic counseling program last fall, hosts a hybrid model with classes held both online and in the classroom. MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston is fielding its first genetic counseling class in the Fall of 2019. Boston University and Brandeis University have similar programs.

Maureen Flynn, director of the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program at the MGH institute, says that as part of their studies students can expect to learn about clinical and human genetics along with psychology, counseling, and the ethical, legal, and social issues involved in genetics. Clinical training also is required as is state certification.

Anyone interested in a career in genetic counseling should first speak with a genetic counselor, advises Caroline Lieber, director of the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program for Bay Path University. You can reach genetic counseling experts through the National Society of Genetic Councilors.

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But Kelley still has the best advice of all.

“Just go for it,” she says.

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