Let’s Talk: Genetic Counselling!

What is genetic counselling?

Genetic counselling involves an integrative medical genetics team that provides information and support to families of patients with birth defects and/or genetic disorders. Additionally, genetic counselling facilitates discussion and education surrounding the effects of inherited conditions with family members of the patient. In this regard, genetic counselling identifies genetic problems within a family, analyzes the known inheritance patterns of such genetic problems, and reviews options with family members to mitigate risk of inheritance and recurrence. Thereby, genetic counselling aids in the understanding of and adaptability to the psychological, medical, and familial consequences surrounding the genetic basis of diseases (Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors, n.d.).

What does it take to be a genetic counsellor?

Genetic counsellors (GCs) are medical providers with an in-depth knowledge of medical genetics who utilize their knowledge to deliver effective counselling for patients and their families. Specifically, GCs guide patients and their families in conversations regarding the interpretation of genetic tests, management of symptoms, and various options regarding family-planning. In this sense, GCs require sensitivity towards ethnic and cultural diversity, especially when addressing difficult ethical issues with families. GCs often hold a Masters degree in genetic counselling or medical genetics, and they usually require additional counselling-specific training. Genetic counsellors are educators that embody compassion and knowledge and who articulate information to healthcare professionals and the general public at large.

Where is the field of genetic counselling headed?

With advancements in genetic screening, genetic counsellors have the ability to recognize unique genetic markers that are indicative of susceptibilities to certain genetic disorders. As genomic sequencing costs continues to decrease and medicine moves becomes even more “personalized”, GCs and other medical providers will play key roles in using their patients’ genetic codes to guide therapeutic strategies. The profession of genetic counselling is headed towards more non-traditional roles both within public and private health institutions. Such positions can include administration, consulting, promotion, or medical genetics research. Therefore, as genomic testing increases in clinical care, genetic counsellors will join various sectors of healthcare, participating in research, patient care, and education.

LET’S TALK: genetics!