A clinical geneticist is a doctor who applies genetic knowledge to real-life situations that patients face. Clinical geneticists work in settings such as hospitals and clinics, offering advice, assistance, and consultation to patients with genetic concerns ranging from the parents of a child with a chromosomal abnormality to a breast cancer patient who wants to know if she carries a gene that predisposes her to breast cancer. Working as a clinical geneticist is rarely boring, and it gives you the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of modern genetics.
Patients are usually introduced to clinical geneticists when they are referred. The geneticist discusses the reason for the patient’s visit with the geneticist and administers tests to assess the patient’s condition. The clinical geneticist meets with the patient after the testing is completed to discuss the test results, their implications, and what the patient can do. Clinical geneticists are experts in evaluating birth defects, genetic disorders, familial cancers, and chromosomal abnormalities, among other things.
In some cases, a clinical geneticist may choose to specialize in a specific area of clinical genetics. He or she might, for example, work with couples who are having difficulty conceiving, performing genetic testing to see if one or both parents have a gene that inhibits fertility and analyzing miscarriage results for genetic abnormalities. Pregnant parents who have just learned that their fetus has a genetic abnormality can seek advice from clinical geneticists.
When a doctor suspects a patient is suffering from a genetic condition, a referral to a clinical geneticist can help them figure out what’s wrong. A precise diagnosis of a genetic problem can be important for people concerned about passing dangerous genes on to their children or for doctors developing a treatment plan. A clinical geneticist’s advice can also help a patient understand why a problem has arisen and how to address it.
To become a clinical geneticist, one must first complete medical school and then a genetics fellowship. Clinical genetics is frequently approached from fields such as pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology. Although clinical geneticists require a decade or more of training, they are in high demand and can usually find work once they are fully qualified. Clinical geneticists are well compensated, especially in urban areas where many people require their services.