Some genetic counselors work to improve the health of a specific population, which is broadly referred to as working in “Public Health Genetics.” This can include working with not-for-profits and government agencies, as well as integrated healthcare systems. Some of these organizations focus on a particular geographic area while others focus on a specific population of people, such as those with certain ethnic background or genetic disease.
Examples of Public Health Genetics in Action
Newborn Screening Programs
Every state in the U.S. has a Newborn Screening program. These exist to test newborn babies for genetic diseases that are treatable when caught early. Genetic counselors work with Newborn Screening programs to help educate the public and healthcare providers about these medical conditions, as well as following up with families who test positive.
Patient Support Groups
Many genetic diseases are very rare, so families affected by them sometimes create support groups to keep up with developments in research, hold meetings, offer support, fund services for their members, and sometimes finance research for treatments and cures. Genetic counselors can work as advisors for these groups, and can help their members navigate the complicated world of medicine and research.
Most medical providers are asked to speak to different sorts of education, religious, and community groups to improve the health of the public, and genetic counselors are no different. Counselors often volunteer their time to educate the public about the heritable risk for many genetic conditions, including cancers, conditions that can affect the heart or the brain. They may also educate people about how to collect a complete family history.