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Not Keeping Up With Demand

The number of genetic counselors in the US isn't keeping pace with the demand for genetic counseling, NPR's Morning Edition reports.

After Erika Stallings decided to seek genetic testing to see if she was at increased risk of developing breast cancer — her mother had breast cancer and was found to have a BRCA2 mutation — she encountered a five-month wait to speak with a genetic counselor.

"It just sort of adds a level of stress to something that is already stressful," Stallings tells NPR.

As NPR reports, there are about 4,000 certified genetic counselors in the US, which it says works out to about one genetic counselor for every 80,000 people. It adds that about 30 universities offer master's degree programs in genetic counseling and though 300 students will graduate from those programs this spring, there are some 650 open genetic counseling positions in the US. "They all get jobs," Anne Greb, who directs the human genetics graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College, says of her students. "I get emails or phone calls daily from recruiters looking to hire."

Demand for counseling has grown in recent years as more and more conditions can be detected through genetic screening and as celebrities like Angelina Jolie have shared their experiences with genetic testing. Counseling is often required both before testing to go over the tests, what they might show and what they might not show, as well as after.

"I just always tell people, it's not just enough to know you are positive. You have to see someone who can put those results in context with you," Stallings says.