Genetic counselors will soon be required to obtain a license to practice in Ohio, according to a recently passed state law.

The change will help assure the public that experts meet a high set of professional standard s before they provide interpretation and education to families about the results of genetic testing, says Melanie Myers, PhD, MS, CGC, director of the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program at Cincinnati Children’s.

Genetic counselors help people understand and cope with the medical and psychological implications that come with discovering that a loved one has a genetic disorder. Cincinnati Children’s already has 25 genetic counselors practicing at the medical center, and demand is expected to grow. 

 As the cost of genetic testing drops, the use of genetic testing is spreading rapidly in clinical care and in research clinical trials. Some people also test themselves with mail-order genetic test kits.

“We are seeing a rise in direct-to-consumer genetic testing,” Myers says. “With more people purchasing at-home test kits, it becomes extremely important that they have access to a qualified genetic counselor to help them understand the results, their risks and their options.”  

To obtain a license in Ohio, genetic counselors must meet several requirements, including attaining a master’s degree or higher from an accredited program and passing a certification exam offered through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Renewing the two-year license will require completing 30 hours of continuing education.

In addition to reassuring the public, the new standards likely will have an impact on clinical research studies, says Sara Knapke, MS, CGC, clinical manager, Division of Human Genetics.  

“Some research project budgets already include provision of genetic counseling for study participants. We expect that to grow as genetic testing becomes more common,” Knapke says.