Genetics is the study of genes, building blocks passed down from parent to child that, according to Medline Plus, makes up who a person is. Mutations in genetics can lead to medical disorders. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, genetics nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who help patients and families that are affected by genetic disorders. These specialized RNs have the potential to make difference, as well as a near-six-figure salary.
Genes act as the building blocks of the body, but unfortunately, sometimes these building blocks can mutate and cause a genetic disorder. There are three kinds of genetic disorders: single-gene, chromosomal, and complex. Genetics nurses are the specialized nurses who work in this field of study.
Single-gene disorders occur when the mutation is only related to one gene. Sickle cell anemia is one an example of this disorder. Chromosomal disorders are when a chromosome or part of a chromosome is missing or is changed. The most well-known chromosomal disorder would be down syndrome. Complex disorders are when the mutation occurs in two or more genes.
Cancer falls under the category of complex genetic disorders.
Education for Genetics Nurses
To become a genetics nurse, you will first need to become an RN. The recommended path to becoming an RN for future genetics nurses is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While you can become an RN with an associate’s degree in nursing, the education path for genetics nurses generally requires a master’s program. Having a BSN will make it easier for you to move on to graduate-level studies. Also, to become an RN, students need to pass the NCLEX-RN, and having a BSN will help you prepare for this exam.
RNs interested in genetics can start to work in genetic labs or cancer centers, but to move up in the field, a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is required. Because the field of genetics is so complex, genetics nurses can benefit from having a more in-depth education. There are even minor programs for graduate students that specialize in genetics.
Some future nurses may be aware that there is a national movement for nurses to have higher levels of education. U.S. News & World Report has stated that many nursing specialties may require a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as the nursing profession moves forward. This movement has inspired schools to transition their MSN programs into DNP programs. With genetics being such a rapidly growing field, it may be best to pursue a DNP to stay competitive in the job market.
Graduate students should look for a MSN or DNP program that has courses that cover human genetics and genetic testing.
Genetics Certification Options
Genetics nurses with the MSN degree can earn an Advanced Genetics Nursing-Board Certified (AGN-BC) credential. This allows genetics nurses to become an Advanced Practice Nurse in Genetics (APNG) and assume leadership roles. This credential was created in December 2014, with the first nurses gaining it in 2015.
Unfortunately, the American Nurses Credentialing Center recently retired the AGN-BC, but the International Society of Nurses in Genetics is currently working on establishing a new credential that they plan on rolling out in the fall of 2018.
Genetics Nurse Duties
One of the main duties a genetics nurse performs is genetic screenings. This involves collecting information from patients such as their medical history as well as the medical history of their family. Sometimes these screenings require blood samples to be analyzed as well as internal images. This allows genetics nurses to assess risk factors and creating patient care plans.
Genetics nurses may need to teach patients about their conditions and help them learn how to manage their disorders themselves. This support sometimes extends to the family of the patient as well. Families may also have to help with caring for the patient. A genetics nurse may also have to help the family cope with their new situation and help them assess their own risk.
Some genetics nurses work in the research field of genetics. Instead of having contact with the patient, they instead study genetic diseases. This allows them to identify risk factors of genetic diseases and come up with treatments or cures.
While APNGs typically are the ones to work in the research field of genetics, they can assume other leadership roles as well. Some APNGs write articles to help inform both the public and fellow healthcare professionals about new information on genetic conditions. They may also work with communities to help coordinate health resources to deal with any genetic disorders.
Genetics nurses work in a variety of locations, such as specialty genetic clinics. Many genetics nurses work directly with their patients in hospital settings, cancer centers, and prenatal and reproductive centers. Those who work in the research field can find jobs with government and private research centers, academic institutions, or even the biotechnology industry.
While the median income for genetics nurses is $62,450, the National Human Genome Research Institute states that genetics nurses can have salaries as high as $92,240.