Clinical Geneticist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Clinical geneticists focus on analyzing, evaluating and caring for patients with genetic diseases. They screen for inherited conditions and diseases derived from altered DNA. They must be licensed as physicians after completing a lengthy stretch of education and training.

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Clinical Geneticist Job Description

Clinical geneticists are specialized physicians who diagnose and treat patients with inherited or otherwise genetically influenced health issues. They organize screenings for inborn errors, prescribe therapy and interact with genetic counselors.

A clinical geneticist evaluates patients at risk for inherited diseases, like Alzheimer's disease, and treats inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and sickle cell disease. Geneticists also treat different forms of cancer and other abnormal conditions associated with genetic alteration.

The American Board of Medical Genetics (ABMG) offers clinical certification for the areas of genetics, molecular genetics, biochemical genetics and cytogenetics (www.abmg.org). They offer additional certification in the subspecialties of molecular genetic pathology and medical biochemical genetics.

Duties of a Clinical Geneticist

Medical geneticists begin by evaluating the medical histories of their patients and their patients' families. They collect and analyze DNA samples using gel electrophoresis, Southern blot analysis, polymerase chain reaction analysis and other biochemical processes.

They may supervise the laboratory technicians who conduct testing and manage the collection of documents. Clinical geneticists also coordinate testing, management and treatment information with genetic counselors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of physicians in general is predicted to grow by 18% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average. In May of 2013, the BLS estimated the annual average salary of physicians to be $187,200.

Requirements for Becoming a Clinical Geneticist

Aspiring geneticists must finish as much as eight years of education plus approximately six years of residency to earn ABMG certification. Generally, individuals complete a biological or physical science bachelor's degree program in order to be prepared for medical school. After completing a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree program, students are eligible for a residency program.

An M.D. or a D.O. can serve a 2-year residency in internal medicine, pediatrics or another medical specialty followed by a genetics fellowship. Alternately, one can enter a 4-5 year residency that pairs genetics with another specialty. Another year of training is needed to be eligible for either ABMG subspecialty certification.

Like all physicians, geneticists must pass the multi-step United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) in order to practice; those on the D.O. path can take the USMLE or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). The three steps are typically taken in the second year and then the fourth year of medical school and at the end of the resident's first year.

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