What is a Genetic Counselor, Anyway?

October 26, 2012

This is a common situation for genetic counselors: There is a party. There is an introduction. The question presents itself, “So what do you do?” Answer: “I’m a genetic counselor”. Response: “Oh.” Or “So, did you see that Broncos game?” Or if the person is very brave or inquisitive: “What is a genetic counselor?”

Indeed. Genetic counseling is a wide-ranging field with areas of expertise from laboratory testing, to cancer, to prenatal, to pediatric, among others. Sometimes it is difficult to present a single-sentence definition that accurately portrays the field. The Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors defines the term in such a way it’ll make your head spin. I won’t even bother you with it.

The National Society of Genetic Counselors is a bit better:  “Genetic counselors are health care professionals with specialized graduate training in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors usually work as members of a healthcare team, providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited condition.”

As you can probably guess, here at Perinatal Associates, our area of expertise is…prenatal. This does entail a wide variety of cases. On occasion we are simply taking a thorough family and pregnancy history for the physician, and discussing routine genetic screening tests that are available. Other times, we may be coordinating complex genetic testing for a patient and/or her baby, and discussing and interpreting the results for the patient and her family. We also see women who are over 35 years old, women with ultrasound anomalies, women with abnormal blood work results, women who have diabetes or epilepsy, or women who are concerned about medication exposures they may have had during the pregnancy. Yes, there’s quite a range there!

So if you should ever happen to meet a genetic counselor at a gathering, you will now have some follow-up questions that will show off your knowledge of the field. “What type of counseling do you do?” “So what’s the latest and greatest prenatal test?” Then of course, we should also discuss football, especially the Broncos…

Ashley Solomon, PANM Genetic Counselor