How to Become a Genetics Nurse: Job Description, Salary, and Outlook

Nurse explains paperworkA genetics nurse, otherwise known as a Genetic Clinical Nurse (GCN), is a healthcare professional who has special training and experience in genetics, which is the scientific field focusing on genes, heredity and variations among living organisms. A genetics nurse helps people who are at risk for or currently have a disease with a genetic component, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. These nurses perform risk assessments, meaning they evaluate and measure a patient’s genetic risk for harm, and the nurses analyze the information they find.

A career in genetics nursing can be very rewarding, as these healthcare professionals help patients and their families prepare for any potentially harmful medical conditions that may run in their family. Genetics nurses may also supply information about genetics to individuals or their communities, provide nursing care to patients and their families, and perform research in genetics.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Genetics Nurse
Education Requirements
Genetics Nurse Job Description
Personality Traits
Career Options
Genetics Nurse Certification
Professional Organizations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information on genetics nurses but the website does publish an overview of registered nurses.

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

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Level of Education Required Associate degree or Bachelor Degree in Nursing
Board Examinations needed NCLEX-RN, RN-BC
Average Salary $66,220
# of Jobs (2012) 2,712,000
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 19% growth

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics http://www.bls.gov

How to become a genetics nurse

To become a genetics nurse, one must:

  • Hold a license as a registered nurse (RN) in a state or territory of the United States
  • Have been in practice as a registered nurse for the equivalent of two years

Education requirements

To be a genetics nurse, one must first be a registered nurse. According to the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG), there are two types of genetics nurses. Nurses with GCN after their names are nurses who have received their bachelor degree in nursing (BSN) and received specialty credentialing to become a genetic clinical nurse (GCN). Nurses with APNG following their names are registered nurses who have received a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and received specialty credentialing to become an advanced practice nurse in genetics (APNG), otherwise known as an advanced genetic nurse (AGN). A board certified genetic nurse may use the initials AGN-BC.

Job description

A genetics nurse performs a variety of functions, including obtaining a detailed family history and constructing a family history diagram, known as a pedigree. The genetics nurse can evaluate and analyze any hereditary or non-hereditary disease risk factors an individual may have and indentify any genetic conditions or genetic predisposition to disease the patient may potentially face. A genetics nurse can provide genetic information, genetic counseling and psychosocial support to patients and families at risk for or already affected by diseases with a genetic component.

Advanced practice nurses assist in genetic testing and are capable of interpreting genetic test reports and laboratory results.

Personality traits:

  • Patience
  • Compassion
  • Determination
  • Detail-oriented
  • Motivated

Genetics nurses providing clinical care report to nurse supervisors or physicians. Advanced practice nurses may report to lead authors of research studies.

Career options

A genetics nurse may work in a variety of locations, including:

  • Specialty clinics that offer gene-based diagnoses and therapies
  • Prenatal and reproductive clinics and technology centers
  • Cancer centers
  • Primary health care settings including pediatric clinics
  • Industrial health
  • School health
  • Research centers
  • Biotech and insurance industries

The number of jobs for genetics nurses will likely grow as the field of genetics, and the role it plays in medicine, expands.

Certification information

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers credentialing for genetics nurses. The advanced genetics nursing certification eligibility criteria requires that the candidate must:

  • Hold a current, active RN license in a state or territory of the United States or the professional, legally recognized equivalent in another country
  • Have practiced at least two years full time, or its equivalent, as a registered nurse
  • Hold a master’s, post-graduate or doctorate degree in nursing
  • Have a minimum of 1,500 practice hours practicing in the advanced genetics nursing specialty area in the past three years
  • Have completed 30 hours of continuing education in advanced genetics/genomics as it applies to nursing in the past three years
  • Fulfilled two additional professional development categories, such as academic credits, presentations, publication or research, preceptor and professional service

ANCC certification is valid for five years.

Professional organizations

International Society of Nurses in Genetics: http://www.isong.org/