Clinical genetics

Clinical geneticists diagnose and look after families with genetic disorders. 

Life as a clinical geneticist 

You’ll manage conditions such as: 

  • chromosomal abnormalities, which cause birth defects, intellectual disability and/or reproductive problems 
  • single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington's disease and sickle cell disease 
  • familial cancer and cancer-prone syndromes such as inherited breast or colorectal cancer and neurofibromatosis 
  • birth defects with a genetic component such as neural tube defects and cleft lip and palate 
  • inherited cardiac conditions associated with sudden death 
  • learning difficulties associated with other problems or a family history 

Technology is revolutionising clinical genetics and therefore your ability to diagnose and treat genetic disorders. So there are unprecedented opportunities for you to understand diseases and progress treatments in this fascinating career.  

You will not prescribe medicines or perform surgery. Your focus will be to accurately diagnose and manage a person’s genetic disorder, and the impact of it on their loved ones. 

As a clinical geneticist, you’ll regularly undertake: 

  • clinical history taking 
  • physical examination 
  • genetic testing 
  • genetic counselling 
  • performing skin biopsies 
  • taking clinical photographs 
  • using computerised databases 

You will need to form close working relationships with both patients and colleagues.  

You’ll spend a lot of time researching disorders, taking family histories and performing detailed examinations of patients. You’ll be continually working to discover if a patient has a genetic condition and if so, what it is and how it may affect their relatives. Your ability to integrate both clinical and molecular information will be in use every day.  

You’ll also work to help colleagues understand a patient’s condition and treatment as part of a multidisciplinary team. Communication and your ability to explain complex conditions will be paramount. 

On any given day, you’ll give advice on: 

  • appropriate management of rare disorders 
  • genetic testing 
  • reproductive options, for example the availability of prenatal testing for a specific disorder 
  • risk assessment of individuals and genetic counselling of family members 

How much can I earn? 

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £29,384 to £34,012. Once you start your specialty training as a clinical geneticist employed by the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £40,257, which can increase to between £84,559 and £114,003 as a consultant. 

How about the benefits? 

  • make a difference 
  • flexible and part-time working 
  • high income early in your career   
  • work anywhere in the world   
  • excellent pension scheme 
  • good holiday entitlement 
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants 

Must-have skills 

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families  
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure  
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams  
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills  
  • outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills  
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients  

Entry requirements 

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.   

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine. You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.  

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application. 

What are my chances of starting a career as a clinical geneticist? 

There are currently 147 clinical geneticists working in the NHS in England. In 2020, there were 40 applications for 13 specialty training places. 

How to become a clinical geneticist 

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.  

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become a clinical geneticist, which will take a minimum of six years.  

You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities. 

Where a career as a clinical geneticist can take you 

There are no associated CCT sub-specialties for clinical geneticists, but you could develop sub-specialty interests such as: 

  • cancer genetics 
  • cardiac genetics 
  • dysmorphology 

Other roles that may interest you

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