About Genetic Counselors

Frequently Asked Questions

You may have questions about genetic counselors and genetic counseling. Below are some of the more common questions.

For more in-depth information on how genetic counselors can work with you or your family, visit our patient resource website at www.aboutgeneticcounselors.com .

Q. What is a genetic counselor?

A. Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals with unique specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of both medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors work as members of a healthcare team, providing risk assessment, education and support to individuals and families at risk for, or diagnosed with, a variety of inherited conditions. Genetic counselors also interpret genetic testing, provide supportive counseling, and serve as patient advocates.

Q. What is genetic counseling? 

A. Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. For instance:

  • How inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families
  • How family and medical histories may impact the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence
  • Which genetic tests may or may not be right for them, and what those tests may or may not tell
  • How to make the most informed choices about healthcare conditions

Q. What do genetic counselors do? 

A. Genetic counselors work in many areas of medicine including cancer, prenatal, pediatric, and adult. Some genetic counselors specialize in areas such as cardiology, neurology, and infertility, among many others. In addition, some genetic counselors work outside clinical practice in research, education, public health and industry settings. 

While their roles may vary depending on specialty, all genetic counselors in a clinical setting help patients and families understand complex issues and support their emotional needs. Genetic counselors are very good at interpreting test results and explaining information to patients in way that is easy for them to understand.

Q. What specialty areas do genetic counselors serve? 

A. Genetic Counselors are becoming an integral part of clinical care in many areas of medicine.

  • Assisted Reproductive Technology/Infertility Genetics
  • Cancer Genetics
  • Cardiovascular Genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis Genetics
  • Fetal Intervention and Therapy Genetics
  • Hematology Genetics
  • Metabolic Genetics
  • Neurogenetics
  • Pediatric Genetics
  • Personalized Medicine Genetics
  • Prenatal Genetics
  • Post-Mortem Genetic Testing

Q. Are there different kinds of genetic counselors? 

A. Yes. Genetic counselors work in a wide variety of settings and may provide  different services . Depending on your questions or the reason you are referred for genetic counseling, you may work with a genetic counselor with specific areas of expertise. Most genetic counselors work in a clinic or hospital setting and specialize in general genetics, prenatal care and family planning, pediatrics, oncology, cardiology, neurology, and many other areas of specialized medical care.

Not all genetic counselors work directly with patients. Some genetic counselors work in related areas such as laboratories, research, education, public health settings, and corporate environments. While most genetic counseling is provided in-person, access to genetic counselors is expanding, and many now provide consultation services by telephone, videoconferencing, and the internet, or offer education and support in group settings.

Q. How do I find a genetic counselor in my area? 

A. Often the best way to find a genetic counselor is by talking with your doctor. You can also find genetic counselors in your area by using NSGC's  Find a Genetic Counselor  tool. You can easily search for a genetic counselor by name, location, or even by area of specialty.

Q. How much does genetic counseling and genetic testing cost, and will insurance cover it?

A. Health insurance often pays for genetic counseling. In many cases, it pays for genetic testing when it is recommended by a genetic counselor or doctor. However, before having any genetic tests, it is important to check with your insurance company to verify coverage. Different companies have different policies. Some cover certain tests but not others. As with most healthcare services, you may need to pay for some of the cost.

Q. Can I have genetic testing without seeing a genetic counselor?

A.  You can have genetic testing without seeing a genetic counselor. Your doctor can order tests and provide you the results. However, because your doctor may not be an expert in genetics, you may receive results that you don't understand and you may have additional questions that leave you confused and worried. Genetic counselors have advanced training in medical genetics and counseling to interpret tests, and guide and support you as you seek more information about how inherited diseases and conditions might affect you or your family. Genetic counselors are able to keep up with the rapidly growing discoveries in genetics and can keep in contact with you if new recommendations come out or something new is discovered about your genetic variant.

Share this resource with your patients, payers, and fellow providers to help educate and inform others about critical points to consider throughout the genetic testing process.

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