Choosing a Genetic Counselor
How can couples find a prenatal genetic counselor?
Counselors take a qualifying exam offered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling, which certifies genetic counselors and accredits genetic counseling training programs for the United States and Canada. The National Society of Genetic Counseling is a professional organization whose website lists certified counselors, their areas of expertise, and their geographic region.
Are there other types of genetic specialists that couples considering conception should consult?
"Many genetic counselors provide counseling to a wide variety of patients, not just prenatal or preconception patients," says Wallerstein. If a couple were concerned about a particular disease or type of hereditary condition, such as cancer or Huntington's disease, then they might choose a genetic counselor who specialized in that disorder.
What's the difference between a geneticist and a genetic counselor?
"A genetic counselor usually has a master's degree in genetic counseling or may be a nurse/genetic counselor," says Wallerstein. "Typically a geneticist is a physician trained in either pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, or internal medicine, who has also completed a fellowship (two to three years of additional training after residency) in genetics." Only a physician can provide a diagnosis for a patient with a genetic disorder, such as a newborn baby with Down syndrome. The role of the genetic counselor is to provide information, interpretation, and ongoing support to the patient.
Most prenatal and preconception patients are seen by a genetic counselor and not by a medical geneticist. Genetic counselors usually work with or are supervised by a medical geneticist, who may review the counselor's work or be available to answer questions or provide more information in complex situations, says Wallerstein. In pediatric settings, however, geneticists and genetic counselors usually work as a team with both seeing the same patients, either together or separately.