Genomic counselling

Genetic counsellors* work directly with patients and families offering genetic/genomic information and support allowing them to make health decisions.

You’ll use your specialist knowledge to support patients and their families. You’ll order genetic and genomic tests to clarify health risks and use counselling skills to support and empower patients as they incorporate this information into their lives.

*Previous training programmes for genetic counsellors have been called genetic counselling, but the title genomic counselling in this programme reflects the increased focus on the use of genomic information and technologies in healthcare.  At the moment individuals trained in this area work under the professional title of ‘genetic counsellors’. 

Working life

As a genetic counsellor, you’ll be part of a multidisciplinary team alongside clinical geneticists and clinical scientists, helping to diagnose, manage, predict and screen for genetic disease. You’ll do this through taking and analysing family history information, assessing the risks of inheriting or passing on a medical condition, ordering and interpreting genetic and genomic test results and explaining these to the individual patient and their relatives. 

Genetic counsellors also use techniques from counselling to help patients adjust to having a genetic condition and to help them make difficult decisions associated with this.  For example, this might include helping a couple decide whether to continue with a pregnancy where their child would have Duchenne muscular dystrophy or helping an individual decide whether to have a genetic test to determine whether they will develop Huntington’s disease like their mother has.

Increasingly, genetic counsellors are using their expertise to support genomic testing in specialist multidisciplinary teams such as in cancer teams, neurology, ophthalmology, cardiology and reproductive medicine.

You’ll use your communication and counselling skills to support and empower people at emotionally difficult times as they adjust to the genetic condition in them or their family. 

You’ll also act as a genetic and genomic specialist at multidisciplinary meetings with other hospital staff eg. in a breast or bowel cancer clinic.

The typical work activities that you might undertake include:

Where will I work?

You will usually be based in a regional clinical genetics department or genomic medicine centre that is responsible for the care of patients covering a large region. You are likely to travel to do specialist genetics clinics in local hospitals in your region. 

Who will I work with?

You will work in a team that includes clinical geneticists (medical doctors specialising in genetics), molecular geneticists and clinical scientists (laboratory scientists who have specialised in genetics) and other healthcare science staff working in the life sciences.

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