What to Expect
You can prepare yourself for a genetic counseling program by getting some
experience in a counseling setting.
This is absolutely critical, says Maggie Krum. She took the genetic counseling
program at the University of Pittsburgh. "The feeling is that one must
understand the counselor-client relationship to some degree before deciding
if they want to be a genetic counselor," she says.
When Krum decided to become a genetic counselor the summer after her sophomore
year in college, she began working at a genetics clinic and in a lab to familiarize
herself with the career.
She says the first year of the program was easier, with lectures and one
short lab course. Second year, with its many hours of homework and many
months of clinical rotations, was crazy.
Rob Finch was well prepared for his genetic counseling master's program
at the University of Pittsburgh. He already had two undergraduate degrees
-- a BA in biology and a BS in genetics.
Although Finch says it's not necessary to have two degrees, he's glad he
did. "Some of my colleagues have degrees in psychology with a minor in biology,
but I feel, and so do they, that they lack some of the scientific foundations
that I have," he says.
Still, Finch wishes he'd done more lab work as an undergrad. "I [did] have
some lab experience, enough to understand a research article, but I would
have liked more hands-on, independent research," says Finch.
Much of Finch's time in the master's program was spent reading. "It
is important to stay on top of the literature, so that we can stay informed
of the latest research and techniques in the field of human genetics," he
How to Prepare
Take as much science and math as you can, recommends Krum. Important courses
include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, psychology and math.
Finch says volunteer work as a telephone and in-person crisis counselor
helped him immensely. "Whether I was just speaking to someone who was lonely...or
someone who was feeling suicidal and had already taken the first step, being
a crisis counselor helped me to be non-judgmental and learn how to help people
during an intense situation," he says.