State recognizes genetic counseling with licensure

Colleen Campbell portrait
Colleen Campbell, PhD, MS, CGC, director of UI Health Care Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling helps patients receive the right test the first time, with a correct interpretation of the results, according to recent research.

The relatively new field is likely to grow in Iowa when the state creates licensure for genetic counselors. The new state law will take effect January 1, 2019, licensing and regulating these health care team members who advise patients and family members about hereditary health risks.

State estimates show around 25 certified genetic counselors working in Iowa presently, and 19 of those work at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

New medical approaches require counselors’ support

“The need for genetic counselors is growing, especially as health care providers move more toward using precision medicine tailored on a patient’s DNA variants rather than broad groups of patients,” says Colleen Campbell, PhD, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor and director of UI Health Care Genetic Counseling. “We advocated for this bill because of the benefits it will bring to patients and their loved ones.”

Campbell explains that genetic counselors serve on health care teams to advise, counsel, and facilitate informed decision making by patients and family members about hereditary health risks, the consequences and nature of an inherited disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, testing options, and options for treating and managing the disorder.

Learn more about genetics and health:

UI provides career orientation events

Licensed genetic counselors in Iowa will have a master’s degree through an accredited program and will be certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling or the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics.

More than 4,000 licensed genetic counselors practice in the United States, and about 40 schools in the United States and Canada offer accredited master’s degrees in genetic counseling, according to the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC).

The Iowa Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Iowa holds Careers in Human Genetics events for high school and college students interested in learning more about careers in human genetics, including genetic counseling. Learn more about these events

Legislative support recognized

Campbell says the key to the passage of the legislation was the broad bipartisan support it received.

“We are grateful to everyone who supported this important effort. Licensure will enable genetic counselors to work to the full scope of our practice in Iowa, which in turn will enable Iowa to grow its genetic counseling workforce to ensure all Iowans have access to these services”, she added.

Research shows that genetic counseling helps increase patient satisfaction by ensuring that patients receive the right test the first time, with a correct interpretation of the results.

There are also financial advantages. A recent study showed that genetic counseling working in laboratories can save $48,000 per month in testing costs by preventing the inappropriate genetic tests from being ordered, reducing out-of-pocket costs.

Career opportunities projected

The new law will also help grow Iowa’s workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects above-average growth in genetic counseling jobs from 2012 to 2022. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics set national records for the number of genetic counselors it hired in 2016 and 2017.

Overall growth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers has been a big emphasis in Iowa, Campbell says, and she's pleased that promoting the genetic counseling profession in this way aligns with the state’s priorities.

Additional information about the occupation and education is available at