What is medical genetics?

Medical genetics is a clinical subspecialty field recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Medical geneticists are medical doctors who study both normal variations in genes and abnormal changes (called mutations) in genes that cause medical illnesses and disorders. As physicians, clinical medical geneticists provide medical care (including diagnoses, treatments, and prognoses) to people who may suffer from the consequences of these genetic diseases and disorders.

Medical geneticists work with other specially trained healthcare professionals, including clinical Ph.D. geneticists, genetic counselors, genetic clinical nurses, and genetic assistants, to bring the most current and helpful information to patients, their families and other health care consumers. Working together as a team, the geneticist, counselor, and assistant gather all the necessary patient and family history. The physician works closely with the genetic counselor to provide the emotional support needed. Medical geneticists also work with laboratory geneticists to test patients to help define the underlying genetic disorder. Other health care workers, for example, nurses with training in genetics or genetic assistants, complete the team that provides genetic risk assessment and health care for the public.

The medical field of genetics is not limited to only one part or organ system of the body or one specific age range in a person's lifetime. Unlike many other subspecialty fields, medical genetics encompasses the entire body and all its functions, and spans from before conception to after death because it involves an individual's parents and children as well.

How are medical geneticists trained?

A medical geneticist is a physician who has trained in a medical specialty, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, or obstetrics and gynecology, and then continued subspecialty training in medical genetics. After four years of college and four years of medical school, the medical geneticist has spent an average of four to six or more years in subspecialty training. Like physicians who achieve board certification in other medical specialties, certification by the American Board of Medical Genetics (ABMG) can only be obtained after the physician has successfully completed a training program and passed the required examination. A candidate for the genetics board examinations must qualify separately for each subspecialty test offered by the ABMG.