A program that focuses on the scientific study of human genetics from the standpoint of medical applications such as clinical diagnosis, genetic engineering and therapy, transplantation, and the study of genetic diseases and disabilities and their defense. Includes instruction in human molecular genetics; genetic factors causing disease; changes in gene expression during development, differentiation, and pathogenesis; recombinant DNA; gene therapy; clinical genetics; genetic epidemiology; immunogenetics; cytogenetics; and genetics of specific disorders and diseases.

Careers in human or medical genetics focus on applying genetic knowledge to advancing medicine and improving clinical care.

There is often a correlation between genetics and overall health; human medical genetics is all about finding those connections and understanding how to manage them. Sometimes finding the right treatment for a hereditary condition requires a thorough investigation of a patient's family medical history, as well as genetic testing and subsequent support.

Medical genetics is a largely clinical field, and like most areas involving human study, requires a pool of real human genetic material. This calls for a great deal of precision and competence, which is why most medical geneticists hold advanced degrees. The majority of clinical geneticists are licensed physicians specializing in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatrics or cancer; however, what differentiates them from other doctors is their expertise in the genetic aspects of that field and understanding of how to apply them in treatment.

Work in human and medical genetics may include...

  • Consulting with patients about their family's medical history
  • Providing genetic counseling for affected or at
  • risk patients
  • Designing and planning clinical trials or screenings for patient populations
  • Using genetic factors to identify and diagnose disease markers
  • Developing treatment plans for patients with hereditary illnesses

Most medical geneticists work in hospitals, clinics, or private practice settings, where they work with patients directly and consult with other specialists on their care. Even medical researchers occasionally work with patients, more commonly than their non-medical counterparts. They may also consult independently, often fulfilling government or industrial contracts or working in public policy or hospital administration. Academic roles are available to very qualified candidates, who may lecture, teach, manage programs, or conduct research in university labs.

Practicing medical genetics requires a lot of training, and many students begin preparations early by enrolling in four-year Bachelor's degree programs in genetics or biology. During this time, they take coursework in human development, gene expression, chemistry, and statistics, as well as genetics courses with intensive lab components. Upon graduating, some elect to pursue Master's programs for additional research experience, but many go straight to medical school. The clinical experience students gain in medical school prepares them to work with patients, and they should specialize in genetics during their residencies and internships. Working in the discipline requires two years of additional experience before a physician can be certified in genetics, so any relevant placements are fantastic opportunities. Some students who want to conduct clinical research will follow their MD with a PhD or do a dual-degree program, since a research-focused doctoral degree is often required for high level or academic jobs.

Genetics provides a nuanced, personal approach to patient care that can make a big difference in the standard of care; could you contribute to this culture? Maybe medical genetics has a career path for you.

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