We have entered the era of precision and personalised medicine, which has been enabled by the adoption of genetics and genomics in everyday clinical practice. Doctors are increasingly relying on genetic tests to help guide a patient’s diagnosis as well as treatment strategy. But genetics is a complex subject, and the field is evolving quickly with new information emerging very quickly. Doctors must constantly update themselves with the latest information and patients too need to understand the results of the test.
In such a situation, the role of the Genetic Counsellor is crucial. Genetic counselling, which is becoming an integral part of healthcare services, is a communicative process by which the patient and his/her family are informed about the genetic basis of the disorder, its inheritance pattern, and the chances of it occurring in future generations. They are guided through available testing options based on current scientific evidence to choose a course of action in keeping with their family goals, ethics and religious standards.
Genetic Counselling is a combination of science and art. Along with the understanding of a complex subject like medical genetics, counsellors also need to have communication skills and a knowledge of psychology to address the patient’s concerns. An empathetic attitude and ability to simplify the language of genetics is essential. Genetic counsellors bridge the gap between the busy physicians who prescribe these tests, and the genomic laboratories that conduct them. Apart from the financial burden, the emotional trauma associated with genetic disorders calls for a compassionate hearing and long-term follow up. The scope of genetic counselling, in the current era of genomics and information technology, cannot be under emphasised.
India does not have many centres to provide training in genetic counselling to address this need. There has been a boom of genomic labs across India, but the demand for trained geneticists and genetic counsellors is not being taken care of with the same speed. There is a lot of scope in this healthcare section and it is predicted that the employment of genetic counsellors is projected to grow 21% from 2019 to 2029.
Currently, few institutes offer a degree in genetic counselling. There are some specialised private institutes that have partnered with leading genetic labs to offer certificate courses in Genetic Counselling like the one by Future Medicine Academy in association with Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education & Research (SRIHER), Chennai. Students with PG degree in Life Sciences and interested in genetic counselling as a career will benefit by a combination of online theory classes and practical training by working with leading clinical geneticists and senior genetic counsellors for an all-round experience.
The writer is Senior Consultant in Clinical Genetics, MedGenome Labs Ltd.