Who are certified genetic counselors?
Certified genetic counselors (CGC®) are experts in medical genetics and counseling. CGCs serve as counselors, resources and advocates for families affected by, or at risk for developing inherited conditions. CGCs often work in medical genetics clinics, or in other subspecialty areas, such as:
- Obstetrics & Gynecology
Genetic counseling is a fast-growing healthcare profession with tremendous growth potential. Learn more
View the Genetic Counseling Organizations Brochure
Who receives certification in genetic counseling?
The CGC credential is granted to genetic counselors who pass the certification examination offered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Certification is a mark of excellence that demonstrates to patients, clients and employers that the necessary standards for providing competent genetic counseling have been met. The CGC credential positions the individual as a specialist in the field, and is internationally recognized.
What area of study is required to become a certified genetic counselor?
Genetic counselors typically follow a bachelor’s degree in biology, social science or related field with a master’s degree in genetic counseling from an ACGC accredited program.
What are the benefits of certification?
By setting and ensuring levels of knowledge, CGC certification promotes patient safety, encourages trust and ensures higher quality health care for all. The CGC credential:
- Represents a defined and specialized skill set
- Encourages trust among patients, colleagues and employers
- Signals an exemplary level of knowledge, service and care
- ABGC’s Genetic Counselor certification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA), which guarantees the highest quality standards.
Why do I need to be certified?
The CGC credential is essential in states that require genetic counselor licensure. State-by-state requirements for licensure vary, but all states that issue genetic counseling licenses require applicants to have current ABGC certification and a master’s degree from an Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) program.
Who are “Diplomates?”
Individuals who have attained ABGC certification are referred to as Diplomates. ABGC's strategic goals are specifically designed to elevate the credential, and in this way ABGC helps Diplomates:
- Verify and elevate their credential
- Advance their careers through ABGC volunteerism and leadership opportunities
- Maintain certification
- Identify and understand ABGC policies
Is renewal or ongoing training required to maintain certification?
Yes. A CGC certification is valid for five years, after which renewal is required. Renewal provides a framework for additional professional development and exposure to advancements in the field. Diplomates may recertify by completing continuing education or by examination. Certified genetic counselors will likely find that recertification is significant for licensure, professional advancement, hospital credentialing, and insurance reimbursement.
Each Diplomate is responsible for:
- Applying for recertification within the allotted time frame
- Providing current contact information on his/her ABGC portal profile
- Keeping current with ABGC news, information, policy, rules and regulations
Diplomates may begin earning continuing education credits (CEU) towards recertification as soon as the month after the examination is successfully completed. A random sample of recertification applications will be selected for audit to confirm the validity of the CEU information submitted. Those selected for an audit will be required to submit all documentation of attendance and activity to support the claimed CEU credits.
How is the certification examination created?
Examination development is a multistep process that includes ongoing item review and editing by a committee of certified genetic counselors. The utmost care is taken to verify that examination items assess proper content as dictated from the Detailed Content Outline (DCO), which serves as the basis of the exam. The ABGC certification examination is practice-based. Therefore, ABGC conducts a periodic practice analysis to identify current skills used by certified genetic counselors in professional practice.
The Certification Exam Committee (CEC) is made up of a diverse group of certified genetic counselors. Item writers consist of a group of certified genetic counselors with diverse specialty and practice setting backgrounds, and a minimum of three years professional experience. Item Writers, who assist to round out areas of content needed for the item bank, are chosen via a rigorous application process through an open call by ABGC. Following training, Item Writers are paired with CEC mentors to develop clear questions that follow established guidelines to verify that each item is properly mapped to the DCO, and to ensure that the item is accurate, current and has sufficient supportive evidence. Guidance on item writing and revision is provided by a Psychometrician, a measurement expert specializing in professional examinations. Items submitted by item writers are reviewed by the CEC mentor(s) as well as the full CEC committee during in-person meetings. Items are rigorously reviewed to ensure that there is no superfluous information such as age, gender, race, that could distract examinees. All items are analyzed for their statistical performance in terms of reliability, validity and discrimination. Items that do not perform well in terms of discriminating between higher and lower capabilities of examinees are either not used or removed from use while they are being revised.
All items that are submitted by the writers and approved by the CEC are included on exam forms as pre-test items, which are presented to examinees on the exam form, but are not scored. Examinees do not know which questions are in pre-testing and which are scored, so that sufficient attention is given to all items and ensuring reliable statistical analysis. Once pre-test items have met sufficient standards, they are moved into the item bank of scored items and can be used on future exam forms.
How is the exam administered?
The ABGC certification exam is computer-based, and administered at PSI testing centers worldwide. (Note: The February 2021 administration will also offer live remote proctoring for candidates who do not wish to attend a testing center in person.) Candidates are given four hours to complete the examination, which is comprised of 200 questions. Detailed information about taking the exam can be found in the Information for the American Board of Genetic Counseling Certification Examination Bulletin.
How is the certification exam scored?
The ABGC certification examination scoring process relies on psychometric principles, to ensure all candidates are treated fairly and that all pass/fail decisions are valid. This detailed process provides distinction and value to genetic counselors in the field, ensures that passing candidates have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for competent practice, and provides protection to the public from incompetent practitioners. Examination performance data is available for review on the ABGC website.
The exam consists of 200 questions in total. Of those questions, 30 are pre-test questions that will not count towards a candidates score but rather, may be included in future exams. The remaining 170 are scored and, as of the August 2018 exam cycle, a minimum of 125 of those 170 must be answered correctly for a candidate to pass, regardless of a candidate’s number of attempts. This minimum score does not change until the next PA is conducted which is followed by a required passing point study.
What is the best way to prepare for the certification exam?
The best place to begin is the Examination Bulletin, which enables candidates to determine eligibility for the ABGC certification examination. An online practice exam is also available from ABGC to help candidates prepare for the exam. As an accredited examination program, ABGC is not allowed to develop, review or administer a board preparation course. The practice exam instead provides a similar test-taking experience for candidates, and is followed with a performance report to help the candidate identify strengths and areas that require further preparation. It is intended to help candidates understand the exam format and type of content they can expect to see while providing an idea of how questions are written and presented within the testing software. In addition, past ABGC President, Adam Buchanan, MS, MPH, CGC, shares insights on the certification exam in this podcast.
Does the certification exam address cultural and ethnic disparities?
Currently, instruction is provided to item writers regarding ensuring the item has no superfluous information such as age, gender, race, that could distract examinees, as noted above. However, ABGC is committed to working toward continuous improvement for our Diplomates and profession, including an essential review by an outside consultant for implicit bias in the exam’s items, development and certification process.
Does ABGC collect demographic data for examinees?
As noted above, ABGC is devoted to a detailed review of all of our processes to remove bias and lower barriers to entering the profession. However, based on expert advice from psychometricians and legal counsel the ABGC Board of Directors is not certain that collecting demographic characteristics will help achieve these goals.
Input from psychometricians suggests that, based on the current diversity level of the profession and the relatively low number of examinees in total, statistically significant data on specific forms of the exam (which are only used a few times) would be difficult to collect. Additionally, our psychometricians have counseled us that bias is best addressed at the item level rather than at the entire exam level, which supports our plans to review items for implicit bias.
Further, legal counsel has advised that collecting demographic data could create legal risk for ABGC. Because certification is linked to employment decisions in some cases, collecting demographic data on examinees could open ABGC to employment discrimination lawsuits. Under Title VII, any organization collecting information on protected classes (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation) needs to be able to provide a valid reason why that data cannot first be collected or evaluated in any other way. For these reasons ABGC has chosen to not collect demographic data. This is a decision that the board revisits regularly.
Why am I required to provide consent allowing my scores to be shared with my program?
ABGC requires certification candidates to have graduated from an ACGC accredited program and accreditation standards require that programs are able to demonstrate positive outcomes. One of the primary external ways they can do so is to provide reports on how their graduates performed on the ABGC certification exam.
ABGC’s program performance reports are broken down by major and minor content areas on the certification exam so that programs can analyze and discern if there are any improvements that need to be made to the curriculum to better serve students. This is standard practice for professions that require certification or licensure to practice.
Is the certification exam being offered during the COVID-19 pandemic?
ABGC is proud to offer testing options this year that best suit candidates. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies has approved ABGC’s request to offer live remote proctoring for the February, 2021 certification examination.
Candidates who elect to take the exam with a live remote proctor should:
- Be accepted and granted Active Candidate Status
- Apply by using the guidelines explained in the Exam Bulletin
- Choose the live remote proctor option when scheduling the exam
- Be cognizant that bathroom breaks are not provided during the 4-hour live proctored exam option
Those with previously scheduled examination appointments will be contacted by PSI with instructions on how to change to the live remote proctor format if preferred. If a technical issue results in a connection being lost or terminated, PSI will work to resolve the issue and reschedule if needed. Those taking the exam remotely will not be able to leave the view of the proctor until the exam is complete, including for bathroom breaks. Learn more about live remote proctoring here, or visit PSI’s YouTube video for additional details.
Have renewal timelines been extended due to COVID-19?
No. The December 31, 2021 recertification deadline has not been extended. Diplomates are encouraged to assess his/her CEUs in order to complete recertification by the end of the year. The National Society of Genetic Counselors has a wealth of online CEU options currently available with a significant number of CEUs offered upon completion.
How much does the certification examination cost?
The 2021 examination schedule, fees and application information can be found here.
Does aligning with a national body like the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) reduce ABGC’s ability to be nimble and address biases in the profession?
Attaining accreditation from NCCA does not reflect any particular alignment but rather, it serves as an indicator that the certification exam development program has been independently reviewed and judged as meeting the highest standard of quality for certification programs. The NCCA Standards are closely linked to The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, developed jointly by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education. Following these industry standards actually increases the fairness of the ABGC exam.
While ABGC works within the system outlined by NCCA, it remains committed to working toward continuous improvement for Diplomates and the profession. ABGC continually reviews and refines the certification exam throughout the development process. A new practice analysis is conducted by ABGC every five years to ensure that the certification exam is evaluating current skills used by certified genetic counselors in the field. Individual items are either removed or refined to reflect changes based on the findings of the practice analysis.
Is there someone I can contact with questions about certification?
ABGC staff is available to assist with certification related questions, including career-enhancing volunteer opportunities. Email [email protected], or call +1-913-222-8661 to learn more.