How to Become a Neurogenetic Counselor

How to Become a Neurogenetic Counselor
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Elen Turner profile
Elen Turner August 2, 2019

The job market for genetic counselors is expected to grow 29% over the next seven years. Here's what else you need to know.

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Neurogenetic Counseling: A Rapidly Growing Career

Unlike ballerina or astronaut, “neurogenetic counselor” probably didn’t make it onto your childhood list of what you wanted to be when you grew up. But if you’re interested in the medical sciences and helping people daily, neurogenetic counseling may make it to your list with some basic requirements: scientific training, empathy, and curiosity.

In this article about how to become a neurogenetic counselor, we’ll cover:

  • What does a neurogenetic counselor do?
  • Pros and cons of becoming a neurogenetic counselor
  • Kinds of neurogenetic counselor careers
  • Educational commitment to become a neurogenetic counselor
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a neurogenetic counselor
  • Typical advancement path for neurogenetic counselors
  • Further accreditation or education for neurogenetic counselors
  • Resources for becoming a neurogenetic counselor


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What does a neurogenetic counselor do?

Like prenatal health professionals who predict potential birth defects within pregnancy and the genetic counselor specializing in psychiatric illnesses, neurogenetic counselors deal with a particular type of patient and genetic risk.

Neurogenetics lives within the fields of neurology and genetics, treating patients with suspected or known neurogenetic conditions, as well as those who have a family history of neurogenetic conditions. These conditions relate to the brain, spine, and nerves connecting them. Common conditions include:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain tumors
  • Dementia
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Stroke

This role is one in a chain of medical professionals that patients visit at any point of the clinical process, whether seeking diagnosis, treatment, or guidance on how to best manage a condition.

Neurogenetic counselor responsibilities typically include:

  • Interview patients to get individual and family medical histories
  • Facilitate diagnostic tests and procedures
  • Interpreting results and potential diagnosis
  • Provide information, education, and support regarding inherited conditions
  • Advise doctors on treatment options
  • Stay up-to-date on developments within the field

Pros and cons of becoming a neurogenetic counselor

Like any path, there are benefits and disadvantages of a career in neurogenetic counseling. Determining whether this is the right niche will likely depend on a number of factors that are unique to your background, needs, and professional goals. Use the pros and cons below as a foundation of what can be expected within this field.

Pro: You’ll be a walking medical encyclopedia

Neurogenetic counseling requires a deep knowledge of different neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and more. It also requires you to stay abreast of scientific developments and breakthroughs, and remain well-versed in the history of your field.

Did you know that the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was originally a form of predictive testing to identify intellectual and developmental deficits in children? If you’re considering a career in neurogenetics, you’ll likely find this fact fascinating.

Con: Staying informed can be time-consuming

It’s not enough to gain knowledge of your field during grad school and then settle into your career as a neurogenetic counselor; you will be expected to keep learning as your career progresses. This means making time to educate yourself on the vast world of medical science, which may be difficult, particularly if you have family or other obligations outside of work.

Pro: Career satisfaction is high

According to a survey from the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), 94% of genetic counselors reported “satisfaction” or “high satisfaction” with their careers. Such high rates of career satisfaction are largely due to the immersion within the scientific community, a wealth interpersonal relationships between patients and medical professionals, and opportunities for educational and personal growth.

Con: Terminal conditions are part of the job

Neurogenetic counselors help people make well-informed decisions about their futures, including those in, particularly difficult situations. As with all medical professions that deal directly with patients, there will be times when you meet people with incurable problems. This may be hard for you to deal with and can take an emotional toll, or cause burnout.

Pro: It’s a career with comfortable earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), genetic counselors make a median income of $80,370 annually. Salaries become more promising with increased work experience and specific types of employers, such as medical and diagnostic laboratories. The top 10 percent of earners in this field pull in a median $107,450 per year.

Con: You’ll need to jump through some educational hoops

You won’t be employable straight out of college, since a master’s degree and then further certification is a must. Many graduate programs also require students to complete a number of prerequisite courses, which will likely lessen the flexibly of your undergraduate schedule and also the variety of classes you take. While a humanities course or two is possible in college, fitting them into your road map to graduate school may call for some advanced planning.

Kinds of neurogenetic counselor careers

You may have an image in mind of a neurogenetic counselor sitting down with a patient to walk them through the implications of their neurological condition. While this is an accurate portrayal of the job, there’s more to it than one-on-one work with patients. A variety of companies, organizations, and institutions seek candidates with this genetic counseling specialization not only to deliver care, but conduct research, teach, and perform other duties.

Neurogenetic counselors can find work at:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Medical centers
  • Community clinics
  • Health advocacy groups
  • Governmental agencies
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Testing laboratories
  • Insurance companies

As a neurogenetic counselor, there will even be opportunities for you to work remotely. The NSGC survey introduced above reports that 32 percent of genetic counselors telecommute at least some of the time.

Educational commitment to become a neurogenetic counselor

1: Bachelor’s degree

The foundation of this career path often starts with a bachelor’s degree in biology, genetics, biochemistry, or a healthcare-related field. If you have goals to become a neurogenetic counselor and haven’t yet started a bachelor’s degreeprogram, you may want to adjust your college search accordingly, since some schools may not offer a breadth of courses to fulfill your intended degree type.

Many masters programs serving the neurogenetic specialization also require students to take specific courses—such as in genetics or statistics—as undergraduates. Students who want to fast-track their education and start work within their field sooner may want to consider an accelerated undergraduate and master’s degree program.

2: Master’s degree

Masters degree programs that prepare students for the responsibilities of neurogenetic counseling include a mix of coursework, clinical training, and research, and are more often than not full-time.

If you’re currently searching for a program, be sure to select one that’s certified by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC), as it will be required for certification later on. Genetic counseling master’s programs typically take two years to complete and include a variety of names, the most popular being:

  • Master’s in Human Genetics
  • Master’s in Genetic Counseling
  • Master of Science in Genetic Counseling
  • Master’s in Medical Genetics

3. Certification

While certification requirements vary from state to state, many employers view it as proof of competency within the realm of neurological disorders and neurogenetic conditions as a whole. It also signifies that you’re up-to-date on any professional practices and are well-informed on the latest developments within your field, no matter how rapidly it may change.

Licensure and accreditation for becoming a neurogenetic counselor

As mentioned, certification is not required in all states, but many employers see it as a plus. It’s also an internationally recognized certificate, which is a benefit if you’re from outside of the U.S. and want to return home to work, or you’re an American medical professional who is interested in working abroad.

To become certified, you’ll need to complete an ACGC-accredited masters degree in genetic counseling and supervised clinical practice hours. From here, you’ll to apply for and pass the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABCG) certification exam, which covers 200 questions within a four-hour testing window.

Typical advancement path for neurogenetic counselors

Job prospects for neurogenetic counselors are strong. BLS predicts the field of genetic counseling to grow 29 percent by 2026, which is good news for those in the clinical trials of their careers and veteran practitioners alike. Emory University School of Medicine reports that demand continues to rise as well, with 3-4 job openings for every graduate.

Entry-level neurogenetic counselors are often hired within public and university medical systems. Salary is generally commensurate with work experience, so once you’ve spent time on the bottom rung of the ladder, promotions and pay raises may be available. As you advance through the neurogenetic counseling profession, you may find yourself pursuing lab work, taking on an assistant professor role, or acting as a consultant for a medical practice or physician group.

There isn’t one set “career trajectory” as a neurogenetic counselor, but many options for practice within the specialization. Given the constant activity and growth of the neurogenetics and neuroscience fields, who knows where it—or you—could be in 20 years? Perhaps a cure for
myotonic dystrophy
will have been found, or findings within your specialization will have prompted geriatric nursing to treat alzheimer’s disease in a new way.

Further accreditation or education for neurogenetic counselors

Professional development can be found through professional organizations and industry conferences, which provide networking opportunities backed by ongoing dialogues on the latest developments within neuroscience, neurological conditions, medical genetics, and the broad scope of genetics.

Some employers encourage employees to take a paid sabbatical every few years for professional development. This opportunity usually occurs within a university setting after a certain period of employment has been completed, such as ten years.

Lasting a few months to a year, sabbaticals allow professionals to take time away from work. How they spend time away is their choice, whether participating in charity or volunteer work, retraining, or simply taking time to relax and rejuvenate.

Resources for becoming a neurogenetic counselor

The following resources offer a wealth of information on neurogenetic diseases and conditions, as well as the neurogenetic counseling profession:

  • “What Are Neurogenetic Diseases?”:__ An explainer article co-authored by three professionals across the field of genetic research and offers an in-depth explanation of neurogenetic diseases and the career opportunities related to them.
  • __The National Society of Genetic Counselors’ FAQ page answers many questions prospective students may have about the broad field of genetic counseling and each specialty area within it.
  • Genetic Counseling for Adult Neurogenetic Disease is a casebook written by Jill Goldman, MS, MPhil, CGC, a genetic counselor at Columbia University Medical Center. By illustrating genetic counseling issues and relating case histories, it serves as a guide to navigating the many questions and concerns patients commonly have, as well as those expressed by other practitioners.
  • The American Society of Human Genetics and the National Society of Genetic Counselors are two professional organizations that offer opportunities for networking, professional development, and continued learning for genetic counselors across all specialty types.
  • __The American Board of Genetic Counseling offers practice certification exams for graduates to determine their strengths and any weak areas before taking the official exam.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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