Last Updated: 03/17/15
Medical Geneticist Career Guide
A medical geneticist is a doctor that is trained in the diagnosis of genetically-linked diseases as well as the therapeutic management and treatment of such disorders. To diagnose genetically-linked disorders, medical geneticists use a variety of radiologic, cytogenic and biochemical tests. Some of the disorders medical geneticists test for and treat include hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease. They can also test and do family history research to determine someone’s risk for developing or passing on a genetic disorder. They also implement various screening methods to find any problems with hemoglobinopathies, neural tube defects, chromosome abnormalities and errors of metabolism in newborns and sometimes when the baby has not yet been delivered. These highly-trained specialists use their findings to help improve the quality of life of patients who have been diagnosed with genetic disorders. Some of the things you might do as a medical geneticist include:
- Evaluating genetic data by applying statistical calculations and analyzing the results
- Creating your own statistical model to analyze various types of genetic data
- Extracting DNA and performing polymerase chain reaction analysis and gel electrophoresis
- Conduct genome research or biological research on gene expression, metabolic networks and nucleic acid or protein complexes
As a medical geneticist, you can choose to follow a career path in clinical genetics, clinical laboratory genetics or genetic counseling. If you choose to go into genetic counseling your work will be more focused on patient care, providing them with support and helping them manage their disease and improve their quality of life. If you choose to become a clinical laboratory geneticist you will spend most of your time in the lab doing various screenings, interpretation of diagnostic tests and serving as a consultant to clinical geneticists.
Like many other specialists, medical geneticists typically work more than 40 hours a week, including several days a week working intensively in the lab conducting experiments and analysis. Medical geneticists who focus on research must also dedicate time and effort to procuring funding for their experiments and research as well as preparing their findings in the form of presentations. If you take the route of a clinical medical geneticist or counselor, your focus will be more on patients so you will spend much of your time in the office seeing patients, rounding and doing follow ups.
To become a medical geneticist you must complete a four year medical school program. Some of the lab courses you’ll need to take include prenatal genetics, cancer genetics, biochemical genetics, and molecular genetics. You’ll then need to complete a two year residency in pediatrics, internal medicine or obstetrics and gynecology. You will then have to complete a two to three year fellowship in medical genetics in whichever specialty you choose (clinical laboratory, clinical genetics or genetic counseling). Before you can work as a medical geneticist you must also pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) that all other physicians must pass before practicing.
Medical Geneticist Salary
If you’re looking to become a doctor to make money, then a career in medical genetics will probably not be your first choice as it is one of the lowest paying fields for MDs. The range for average yearly salary for medical geneticist is between $100,000 and $125,000 and most of these jobs are in academic centers. If you choose to work for a private practice your salary might be upwards of $200,000.
The job opportunities for careers in genetics continue to grow as more and more details of the human genome are discovered. Those highly specialized in the field, such as medical geneticists will be highly sought after and are often a necessary part of any research university’s health science research department. Another reason the outlook for this field is so good is that genetic testing is becoming much more common and is often a part of routine and prenatal medical evaluations. As the field continues to expand, there will also be a need for medical geneticists to work as professors.