Purpose and Mission
A medical genetics specialist, also known as a geneticist or as a specialist in clinical genetics, deals with abnormalities, conditions and diseases related to the genes. In any one day, he/she might see patients with a wide variety of conditions, including cancer, reproductive disorders, neurological problems and birth defects. The genes have an influence on every part of the body.
Training as a geneticist provides access to a range of career choices. Some specialists work in clinics or hospitals, dealing directly with patients. This role involves assessment and diagnosis, genetic testing, counselling and providing advice on management. Most patients meet with a specialist in clinical genetics just a few times – ongoing consultation isn’t usually necessary.
Alternatively, many geneticists decide to take up a position in a laboratory and become involved in cutting-edge research.
As is the case with any medical career, that of a geneticist begins with a medical degree. Individuals who have already graduated from an undergraduate degree (regardless of the discipline) can complete a 4-year general medical degree. Those who haven’t yet studied usually opt for a double degree – Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS). This takes between 5 and 6 years. On completion of either path, the next step is training in an accredited hospital for twelve months or longer.
After that, the graduate must undertake advanced training in clinical genetics, leading to a fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP). Being accepted into this program involves a strict admissions process and, to pass, students must undergo rigorous and continual assessment.
Steps for becoming a Geneticist in Australia
Refer to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) for more information.
Each and every doctor practising in Australia, whether trained in Australia or overseas, must register with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Medical Genetics is one of the fastest-moving areas of medical research. So a successful geneticist is one who is willing and able to keep-up-to-date with important changes in the field. Not only should he/she build an extensive knowledge base during training, he/she should be constantly learning and studying. A capable mind and a strong work ethic are vital. Geneticists will often be invited to attend additional courses and conferences, to make sure that they are on top of new developments.
Medical Genetics Specialists who decide to work in clinics or hospitals need good people skills. Many genetic conditions are extremely serious, resulting in significant debilitation and low life expectancy. So specialists can expect to be confronted with stressed, emotional and wary patients, and often find themselves dealing with parents whose children have been born with a genetic disorder. Being able to communicate with compassion and clarity is important. In addition, geneticists often work with other specialists, so a willingness to share information and work in a team is significant.
Meanwhile, specialists who opt for a career in a laboratory must be curious, meticulous and determined, and be equipped with outstanding research skills.