Should genetic counselors be licensed?

Genetic counselors are currently licensed in Utah. Outside of Utah, genetic counselors practice without a license. Most are well-qualified and ethical health care professionals. Many are board-certified by the American College of Genetic Counseling, but certification and licensure are two different things.

There has been a push in the genetic counseling community in recent years to support licensure in other states, and eventually nationwide. As the availability of genetic testing increases, so does the risk of an unqualified (or underqualified) person hanging out their shingle, calling themselves a genetic counselor, and endangering the well-being of those who choose to pay them a visit. Licensure ensures that healthcare professionals are qualified to perform their jobs and defines their scope of practice. It also gives the public a course of action should they want to file a complaint.

Counselors in a number of states are in the process of drafting legislation to require the licensure of genetic counselors. Some state groups have gotten as far as a bill on the floor only to uncover unexpected opposition from other lobbying groups. Because these changes have to occur on a state-by-state basis, we are learning about the best approaches as well as the barriers as we go.

Doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals are licensed. Massage therapists are licensed. Hairstylists are licensed. Realtors are licensed. The list is long.

It makes sense to me that if the person cutting my hair needs a license, so should a genetic counselor. After all, hair grows back. The impact of genetic testing and diagnosis can change a person's life.

What do you think?

Nicole Teed, MS, CGC

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