How to Become a Genetics Doctor

Medical geneticists consult with patients and conduct research.

Medical geneticists consult with patients and conduct research.

Genetics is the study of how information is stored and transmitted between generations. Many scientists study genetics, including microbiologists, botanists and zoologists, but medical doctors who specialize in genetics are called medical geneticists. Medical geneticists provide diagnostic, management and genetic counseling services for patients with genetic disorders. You might choose to see a medical geneticist when you become pregnant, for example. Some medical geneticists work with government agencies and private foundations to plan and manage large-scale genetic screening programs. Like all physicians, medical geneticists have at least 10 years of post-secondary education and training.

Complete a bachelor's degree program in a field of your choice. A bachelor of science in chemistry or biology will give you a good academic foundation for medical school, but medical schools accept candidates from a variety of academic backgrounds.

Attend a four-year medical school program and complete your medical doctor degree. Your first two years of medical school are focused on classwork in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, genetics and medical ethics. The last two years involve a series of clinical rotations through different medical specialties working with experienced physicians.

Apply for clinical medical genetics residency programs during your final year of medical school. Most medical genetics residencies are two-year programs, with an optional third year for further specialization. You will be working hands-on with patients as a resident, but you will be under the supervision of a licensed, board-certified medical geneticist. Residents typically are given greater responsibilities and independence as they become more experienced physicians.

Complete your residency program, including the extra year of specialization if desired. You are eligible for an unrestricted medical license after completing your residency. Develop your professional network while you are in medical school and during your residency. Having connections will help you find an ideal medical geneticist position in a city where you want to live.

Become board-certified by taking and passing the American Board of Medical Genetics specialty certification exam. Passing an ABMG specialty exam indicates you are a practicing professional with expert knowledge in that area of medical genetics.

Tips

  • Maintain a high GPA as an undergraduate. Medical school admission is highly competitive, and almost all applicants have strong academic records. Participate in extracurricular school and community activities while you are in college, as medical admission committees prefer well-rounded candidates.
  • It is possible to work as a medical geneticist with a doctorate in genetics rather than an M.D. You are, however, required to complete a two-year residency program and pass the American Board of Medical Genetics certification exam just like doctors.
 

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images