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A clinical geneticist is a doctor who applies the knowledge of genetics to real-life situations experienced by patients. Clinical geneticists work in environments like hospitals and clinics, providing advice, assistance, and consultation to patients with concerns about genetic issues, ranging from the parents of a child with a chromosomal abnormality to a breast cancer patient who wants to undergo testing to see if she carries a gene which predisposes her to breast cancer. Working as a clinical geneticist is rarely dull, and it allows people to work in the forefront of modern genetics.
Clinical geneticists usually meet patients when they are referred. The geneticist talks to the patient about why he or she is meeting with the geneticist, and performs tests on the patient to evaluate the patient's condition. After the testing is complete, the clinical geneticist talks with the patient about the test results, their implications, and what the patient can do. Clinical geneticists are skilled in the evaluation of issues such as birth defects, genetic disorders, familial cancers, and chromosomal abnormalities.
In some cases, a clinical geneticist may specialize in a particular field within the practice of clinical genetics. For example, he or she might work with couples experiencing fertility problems, performing genetic testing to see if one or both parents carries a gene which is inhibiting fertility and testing the results of miscarriages for genetic abnormalities. Clinical geneticists can also provide counseling to pregnant parents who have just received news that the fetus has a genetic abnormality.
When a doctor suspects that a patient is experiencing a genetic problem, a referral to a clinical geneticist can get to the bottom of the problem. The geneticist may also have advice about treatment options, and a precise diagnosis of a genetic problem can be important for people concerned about passing dangerous genes on or for doctors developing a treatment plan. The counseling of a clinical geneticist can also help a patient understand why the problem occurred and how it can be managed.
To become a clinical geneticist, someone must first train as a doctor, and then complete a fellowship in genetics. People often approach clinical genetics from fields such as pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology. The training takes a decade or more, but clinical geneticists are in high demand, so they can usually find jobs once they are fully qualified. Rates of pay also tend to be excellent, especially in urban areas where many people need the services of clinical geneticists.