Many people aren’t familiar with who genetic counselors are, or what genetic counseling can do for them and their families. This can be true even if someone has had some form of genetic testing in the past. As a board-certified genetic counselor, I’m here to help.
In brief, according to the NSGC, a genetic counselor is a healthcare professional with specialized training in medical genetics and counseling. You can think of us as translators, helping people understand how their family history and personal genetic information can impact their health. The profession is around 50 years old, and has evolved in many ways as science has progressed—and as our approach to genetics, in clinical, research, and consumer settings has changed.
Genetic counselors bring a clinical and human perspective to a wide range of roles
The places and contexts in which genetic counselors work can vary greatly as well. Many work in clinics or medical centers across a range of medical specialties like prenatal, pediatrics, oncology, and cardiology. Others work in research, policy, and public health. A growing number of genetic counselors work for companies—often supporting a genetic testing lab, but also applying the clinical, human perspective to a wide range of roles, including marketing, business, and product development, to name a few.
From the beginning, Helix has made genetic counseling a standard requirement for all of the Health products we offer. Our partners who make these products available through Helix are required to include access to genetic counseling for all users, at no additional charge. We do this to ensure that any customer who needs further information, or help putting their genetic results into the context of their lives and families, can do so without any barriers. This genetic counseling is provided by a number of independent third party services who offer remote counseling by phone or video. In doing so, these genetic counselors are helping people one-on-one to understand genetic testing results, what it means for them and their family, and how they can share this information with doctors and loved ones.
Technology has allowed genetic counseling to adapt to a growing demand for counseling services. In response to this demand, some groups have provided remote counseling by making use of phone and video technology.
The use of technology increases a genetic counselor’s ability to provide education, support, and to personally (and conveniently) connect with a professional. The companies offering “tele-genetics services” are serving an important role in our field by extending help to the growing number of people seeking to learn about their DNA.
Within Helix, genetic counselors are also playing important roles every day. We work with our partners in a variety of ways, from ensuring they provide consumer-friendly information, to helping people make informed decisions about testing. Our experience working with patients and families allows us to translate a consumer’s needs into an intuitive, digital user experience complete with valuable education and resources available to those who receive results. We also use our clinical knowledge to work with our commercial teams—from marketing to business development—to ensure that we not only work with high-quality partners, but that we convey the value of their products and services in an accurate and responsible way to all consumers.
The need for genetic counselors is great—and thanks to companies like Helix and the many organizations who are pushing the science of genomics forward, it’s only going to grow in the years to come. Genetic counseling has evolved dramatically in the last few decades and it continues to adapt new ways of helping people understand genetics in an age where technology that reads, interprets, and presents genetic information is ever changing. Even now, efforts to improve the use of genetic counseling services are underway, such as expanding the profession, making it more efficient, and making it more automated through tools like videos, chatbots, and interactive websites.
All of this is why we value genetic counseling so much at Helix and why we’re delighted to both honor and celebrate Genetic Counseling Awareness Day. Personally, as a genetic counselor who works at Helix, I’m incredibly excited each time I see how genetic counselors and their diverse skill sets are helping to ensure that Helix customers receive DNA-based insights in a valuable, and responsible way.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming a genetic counselor, dive into the NSGC’s resources here. And if you are concerned about your own personal and/or family history and want to discuss it with a GC, you can find one near you here.