Advancements in science and technology have led to medical treatments that are bursting with potential, like gene therapy. They’ve also given rise to one of the hottest careers in the U.S.: genetic counseling.
CareerCast put genetic counselor atop its recently released annual list of America’s top jobs. The ranking didn’t surprise Amy Sturm, Director of Cardiovascular Genomic Counseling at Geisinger’s Genomic Medicine Institute and President-elect of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).
“I have a lot of friends who have kids who might be in junior high or high school and so many of them want me to talk to their children about genetic counseling as a career,” Sturm tells Vita.
Many genetic counselors work with people who have questions about healthcare conditions, inherited diseases, family medical histories or genetic testing. Others focus on genetic research.
“It’s very fast-paced. You’re always learning something new,” Sturm says.
While Sturm says there are many different opportunities in genetic counseling, one commonality among counselors is that nearly all of them find satisfaction in their careers. She points to a recent survey of NSGC members that found 94 percent of respondents described themselves as “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with their careers. That rate may be the result of working in a fulfilling job that the NSGC reports has an average salary of more than $88,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the field to expand by 29 percent over the next eight years.
While a medical degree or Ph.D. isn’t a requirement, the process to becoming a genetic counselor is competitive. Counselors typically get their start as college undergrads majoring in a science field like biology, Sturm says, before gaining a master’s degree in human genetics or genetic counseling. The final step is to become board certified as a genetic counselor.
Still, the opportunity to work helping patients living with conditions including rare diseases, such as primary immunodeficiency and hemophilia, cancer or cardiovascular problems combined with a competitive salary and job growth makes the effort more than worth it, Sturm says. Genetic counselors spend their days working on the leading edge of science, a place that could potentially give doctors the ability to alter genes in order to cure disease.
“We’re actually getting to the era where gene therapy is truly possible.”
CSL Behring is exploring the possibility of using techniques like gene therapy to treat conditions including sickle cell disease.