If your heart fluttered with joy the first time you read about Mendel and his pea plants, you may want to investigate the requirements for a career as a geneticist.
Because this is no longer a single-track profession, it may mean that you’ll want to specialize at some point.
Below, we’ll discuss the courses and degrees required, and the refinement of focus that will lead you in the right direction.
Clinical in Nature
Today, the field has four sub-fields:
• Clinical or Medical
• Clinical biochemical
• Clinical cytogenics
• Clinical molecular
The first subdivision entails direct work with patients, and is by far the most popular of the four. It will form the bulk of our exploration today, but first, we’ll provide a brief definition of the remaining three sub-disciplines to help clarify matters.
Biochemical focuses on the relationship between genes, proteins, and metabolism. It is research-oriented and seeks to discover the root causes for many heritable disorders and diseases. You may study the improper production of specific enzymes that lead to development of pathological symptoms, such as the inability to process certain nutrients. In other cases, you might explore the root causes for sickle cell anemia or Down Syndrome.
Cytogenics studies the number and structure of human and animal genomes, and explores how deviations in those structures can cause disorders or mutations. This particular focus is at the forefront of many cancer studies.
Molecular specialists study the role of molecules in the production of polypeptides and other substances essential to life functions.
Hitting the Books
While pursuing a career in any of the four subfields of genetics will require the same basic education, each discipline has its own specialized requirements that follow the foundational credits and courses. In order to become a medical geneticist, you’ll want a sound understanding of biology and undergraduate course load rich in pre-med requirements.
You’ll then need to pass the admissions test for medical school and be accepted by the institution of your choice. Admission can include letters of recommendation as well as other certifications and experience that will render you attractive to review boards. Once you’ve studied, and passed the certification exams at the end of the second year of training, you’ll be required to complete a residency with a focus on your preferred field of medicine.
Additional certifications can only enhance your deep understanding of your field. Post-grad coursework in molecular genetics or biochemical genetics will enable you to perform your duties with greater insight. Those who practice medical genetics generally work with patients to identify heritable cancer markers, use the latest testing techniques to identify and treat inherited diseases and disorders, educate patients and families about particular genetic diseases or predispositions, provide diagnostic workups for these conditions.
If you choose to pursue a career in medical genetics, it’s likely that you’ll spend at least forty hours a week in a clinical setting. This can take the form of private practice in an office setting, as hospital rounds, or in the laboratory, where you’ll study the diseases and disorders of your patients to understand them more fully.
While it’s a rigorous course of study and a professional specialty that is by no means the most lucrative, medical genetics is continuously evolving. As we develop diagnostic tools of ever greater precision and increase our understanding of the human genome, geneticists will play an increasingly important role in the assessment and treatment of some of the most troubling diseases known to man.
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