Genetics nurses play an important role in the lives of families who are either at risk for or suffer from hereditary diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or cystic fibrosis. These nurses are the first point of contact for patients waiting to gain knowledge about their genetic makeup. In some cases, the risk assessments that a genetics nurse provides can save lives.
When determining how to become a genetics nurse, you should be aware that education is a priority. Having a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is essential to obtaining a role in the genetics nursing field. Strong research and communication skills are helpful as well.
What Is a Genetics Nurse?
Genetics nurses are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who have additional specialized training in genetics. They perform risk assessments, conduct research, and provide care and genetics education to patients and their families.
Scientific studies have shown that many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer, have genetic components, according to the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG). Professionals who choose this career path play a crucial role in helping patients achieve and maintain good health.
What Does a Genetics Nurse Do?
Genetics nurses provide direct care to patients who have or may have any of a variety of diseases that have a genetic component, such as heart disease, Down syndrome, or sickle cell anemia. Their specialized training provides them with the expertise to analyze test results to determine patients’ risks for these diseases. A genetics nurse also consults with patients, providing guidance and information about better managing their conditions.
Where Do Genetics Nurses Work?
Individuals in this field work in a variety of locations. The most common work settings for genetics nurses, according to ISONG, include the following:
- Biotechnology companies
- Cancer centers
- Educational institutions
- Pediatric clinics
- Prenatal centers
- Primary care centers
- Reproductive technology centers
- Research facilities
- Specialty clinics that provide gene-based therapies and diagnostic services
Most professionals in this field work 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday. In some settings, however, such as facilities that are open 24 hours a day, genetics nurses may need to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
Genetics Nurse Skill Requirements
Aspiring genetics nurses should develop a variety of skills and competencies.
Fine-tuned communications skills help genetics RNs receive and relay information to patients of various ages and backgrounds.
Additionally, professionals who choose this career path must be highly detail oriented to identify subtle changes in patients’ health and their responsiveness to treatment plans.
Last, as nurses in this field provide care to individuals with long-term or terminal diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, they must be compassionate, empathetic, and caring with patients and their families.
Steps to Becoming a Genetics Nurse
Becoming a genetics nurse requires several steps, such as earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and completing on-the-job training. Some genetics nurses also decide to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or an advanced genetics nursing certification (AGN-BC), which may lead to higher-level positions in the field.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
You’ll need a BSN to become a genetics nurse. The BSN curriculum teaches skills such as nursing research, family assessment, individual assessment, and nursing informatics. While a BSN is not required to become an RN, it is required to become a genetics nurse. The genetics nursing role is an advanced field of nursing, where higher-level clinical work and deep genetic analysis is performed.
Step 2: Meeting License Requirements to Become a Genetics Nurse
An RN license is required to become a genetics nurse. Many genetics nurses become registered nurses before receiving their BSN, because RN licensure only requires an associate degree.
However, if you are beginning your education and know that you want to become a genetics nurse, earning your bachelor’s degree will be the first step. Then you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive your RN license.
Step 3: Complete On-the-Job Training to Become a Genetics Nurse
As in many professions, on-the-job training is a requirement for becoming a genetics nurse. New graduates often seek jobs at genetics clinics, cancer centers, or hospitals to gain experience in the field. Many nurses will start out as registered nurses to gain basic experience before moving into more specialized genetics research.
Step 4: Advanced Experience as a Genetics Nurse
While a master’s degree is not required to become a genetics nurse, an MSN can be helpful when trying to obtain higher-level positions. Many genetics nurses also choose to obtain the AGN-BC certification, which demonstrates advanced knowledge in the field. The advanced genetics nursing certification can be obtained by nurses who have five years of experience, have logged 50 cases, and have completed 45 hours of continuing education in genetics.
Genetics Nurse Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a standalone category for genetics nurses but includes them in the registered nurses category. As of May 2020, the median annual salary for RNs, including genetics nurses, was $75,330, with earners in the top 10th percentile earning more than $116,230, according to BLS data. Salaries can vary based on a variety of factors, such as whether an individual works for a state government, local government, private, or nonprofit institution; the geographic region of the position; and an individual’s experience level.
Genetics nurses are expected to be in high demand as research continues to grow and the nation’s population continues to age. While the BLS does not keep data on the future growth of such a specialized job field, we know the need for genetics-focused nursing expertise is likely to expand. One of the main duties of genetics nurses is to conduct assessments on the potential risk of genetic malformation in patients. These assessments are highly valued, because the sooner a gene component is targeted, the greater the possibility of managing or preventing hereditary disease.
Start Your Journey to Becoming a Genetics Nurse Today
Healthcare is one of the most important industries in the world, and healthcare providers are highly respected. Not many people have the knowledge, training, or capability to do such complex research, and to communicate this research to the general population in a compelling way.
It takes a special type of person to work in the field of nursing, where long hours are required, high levels of intelligence are needed, and strong people skills are essential. While the job is demanding, becoming a genetics nurse can be a very rewarding career choice. Families and individuals rely on genetics nurses to deliver life-changing information and support them through their medical journeys.
The first step in becoming a genetics nurse, and experiencing the reward of helping others, is to obtain the proper education. Maryville University offers an online RN to BSN program that is an excellent choice for registered nurses who wish to receive their Bachelor of Science in Nursing online. Whether you’re a registered nurse or just beginning your nursing career, take the next step in your education today and get closer to your career goals.
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International Society of Nurses in Genetics, “What Is a Genetics Nurse?”
National Institutes of Health, Genetic Disorders