Clinical geneticists are specialist doctors who test for and diagnose genetic conditions. They also advise on treatment for patients and families affected by hereditary disease. Their cutting-edge work combines medical diagnosis and management with scientific expertise.
What is a clinical geneticist?
A clinical geneticist specialises in understanding the genetic components that make up disease and illness. While you won’t prescribe or give medical treatments, your job is to assess, research and advise on the treatment of ongoing illness with a genetic component.
Geneticists usually work within the NHS, though many also work in a private capacity. You could work with patients with family histories of a particular disease, or work in a more research based capacity. As technologies in medical advancement develop, your work will continue to expand.
To start training to become a clinical geneticist you will need to study a medical degree.
Your responsibilities in clinical genetics will vary. Duties ordinarily depend on your level of experience, any specialisms you have and whether you work for the NHS or in a private capacity.
Common duties include:
- Examining patients and taking genetic samples, often from skin, to assess against particular genetic markers for disease.
- Forming good relationships with patients and their families to offer ongoing support in the management of hereditary conditions.
- Giving diagnosis to patients of genetic disorders.
- Keeping up to date with clinical research in the field of genetics, including information on new procedures or diagnostic tests for disease and new treatments to improve life quality.
- Providing advice on reproduction to families who knowingly have a genetic marker for a particular disease.
- Providing advice on the management of specific genetic disorders based on your understanding of the known disease and the implications its genetic markers could have on the individual, and any family members.
- Providing excellent bedside manner to patients and their families.
- Providing genetic counselling to families, giving them a full understanding of the potential they have to pass on an inherited condition, as well as offering any options for limiting the hereditary potential of a disease.
- Taking a detailed patient history of illness, as well as taking family histories of illness or disease, to assess for the potential of a genetic disorder.
- Taking visual records such as photography and video to help in diagnostics of particular disorders.
- Undertaking detailed genetic research using specialised computer software, genetic samples and your own clinical judgement to arrive at a diagnosis.
A clinical geneticist salary in the NHS is set out by the NHS Agenda for Change salary scale. Your initial salary during two year foundation medical training as a junior doctor will be £29,384 - £34,012. On completion of your initial medical training, you will be eligible to apply for a medical specialism in clinical genetics. Your salary when you begin this specialist training will be £40,257. As you progress through your training and become a consultant clinical geneticist, your salary could increase to £84,559 - £114,003.
To start training to become a clinical geneticist you will need to study a medical degree. A medical degree usually lasts five years and is taken at a medical school attached to a university. You will usually need a minimum of 3 A Levels at grades A* and A, including chemistry and sometimes biology, maths and physics. If you already hold an undergraduate degree in a relevant science based subject, you could be eligible for graduate entry medicine, a shortened four year course. You will still need the same A level entry requirements.
Training and development
On completion of your medical degree, you will be eligible to begin foundation training. This lasts two years and involves six placements across various medical departments within the NHS. If you can, it’s worth asking to have a placement in clinical genetics. Once you complete your foundation training you will need to register with the General Medical Council (GMC) in order to work as a qualified doctor.
On completion of your training you will be eligible to apply for a medical specialism in clinical genetics. This training lasts at least six years, but it can be completed part time to fit around health or personal needs, such as raising a family.
As part of your registration with the GMC, you will need to complete regular continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending relevant conferences, seminars and shadowing senior professionals. Conducting your own research and publishing academic papers could also count towards your CPD. Doctors usually need to complete 250 hours of CPD across a five year period, averaging out at around 50 hours per year.
Working in medicine is a competitive field. You will usually need evidence of time in a healthcare based setting in order to apply for your initial medical degree.
You could join a relevant medical society related to genetics. Examples include the British Society for Genetic Medicine and the Clinical Genetics Society. Membership usually includes access to conferences, seminars and research information to support your career.
Your skills as a clinical geneticist combine excellent research skills, medical knowledge and great bedside manner.
- Having an up to date,ages and needs.,as you’ll be managing large caseloads of multiple patients and their families.
- Time management,assess and analyse biological samples to spot genetic disorders.
- Excellent patient bedside manner,but comprehensive way.
- Excellent written communication skills for compiling patient reports,especially in the use of computer programs used for assessing genetic markers.
- Excellent verbal communication skills for passing on key diagnostic information to patients in an accessible,especially when giving information on potential diseases and providing genetic counselling.
- Laboratory skills,especially when working in busy outpatient clinics.
- Ability to work well in a team of health professionals,if a genetic health condition requires external support measures for good quality of life.
- Emotional resilience - you will likely build up good relationships with individuals and have to support them through challenging diagnosis.
- Ability to work well with individuals of all walks of life,knowing key ways to collect,robust knowledge of the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disease.
- A strong research acumen,scientists and potentially support workers such as social workers,writing up research reports and taking patient notes.
- Organisational skills.
Working in medicine is a competitive field. You will usually need evidence of time in a healthcare based setting in order to apply for your initial medical degree. This could be in a hospital, a GP surgery or another external healthcare provider, and could be work or voluntary shadowing. If you have a connection in healthcare, it is in your interest to use it - though you can also reach out directly to NHS providers in your area to ask to shadow a relevant professional.
If you struggle to access direct time shadowing a medical professional, you could also work in external settings that offer patient treatment in some capacity, such as care homes.
A clinical geneticist specialises in understanding the genetic components that make up disease and illness.
To express a particular interest in genetics early on in your medical career, you could join a genetics society. Many universities have specialist genetics societies for training students, offering training, seminars and networking opportunities to build up your knowledge and experience of this exciting area of medicine.
Clinical genetics careers are ever growing. As technologies to help with the diagnosis and research of genetic disorders develop, your career could do. While there are no subspecialties in the NHS for consultant geneticists, you can still specialise your work into a particular field such as cancer genetics or cardiac genetics.
If you particularly enjoy the research side of your work, you could also move into teaching in the field of genetics. You could teach clinically within a medical degree program, or look into teaching on genetics degrees with a scientific focus.
- Clinical genetics — HealthCareers.NHS.uk Retrieved 5 October 2022.