Diversity in GC: Identity, Background, and Personality (+Interview News!)

Happy Thursday and butter my biscuit I was completely wrong about when Oklahoma University was sending offers. I got one this past Friday!

celebration GIF by Primark

Even more shocking… I leave for it ONE WEEK from now. My interview date is Feb 8th. I’ll be flying out Feb 7th, and spending the 7th through the 9th in Oklahoma City. So, next week I’ll be bringing you a regular blog post on the morning of the 7th, and then the week after, or maybe in a special report type of post, I’ll share about the experiences I had in Oklahoma and on the OU campus. I’m not here to share how I’m ranking schools, what questions I was asked, or to divulge any other unethical topics. But as I go out on interview trips, I’m happy to share what I love about my visits, show pictures, tell fun stories, etc.

Like Arkansas, I’ve never been to Oklahoma before. I’m excited to check out the city and program, and I definitely have some Oklahoma BBQ on my schedule. I also made it an afternoon interview so I can try out that going for a jog in the morning before the interview.

For this week, I asked a few of this year’s applicants about their unique identities and how they contribute to the diversification of the genetic counseling field. All of them identify as diverse candidates in some way. They shared how they plan to use their identity to bring unique insight to their work.

These are the questions they tackled for us:

  1. How do you identify? Do you have a cultural background, racial identity, gender or sexual identity, personality, or educational background that is unique to GC?
  2. Why might we need more GCs with your identity?
  3. Do you have any specific goals in your career relating to your identity?

and then they shared their thoughts on this topic in general.

First up, we’ve got Nate who talked about the way that a unique background sheds light on healthcare needs we might not otherwise be aware of.na.png

“I identify as male, biracial (African American and Caucasian), and LGBT. So demographically, my identities are underrepresented in the genetic counseling profession. Outside of my identities I’ve also had some unique experiences like having the opportunity to study abroad and do marine biology research in Belize.

I think that we need a greater diversity in genetic counseling across the spectrum of identities. Being a part of diverse communities, I think that you’re naturally more invested in the issues that surround them because you’ve seen firsthand how the issues have affected yourself, family, and community. From an education standpoint, having a diversity of backgrounds among the cohort would be a benefit because it would facilitate more in-depth discussions, and then we would all learn from each other and grow to become better health care professionals. There are also many disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines when it comes to who has access to and awareness of genetic counseling. I’ve noticed within the African American community there is a mistrust of biomedical research and the healthcare system in general, which may be valid concerns because they tend to experience lower quality care. Increasing the diversity among genetic counselors may help start to bridge the gaps between these groups. I’m unsure how people who identify as LGBT may experience genetic counseling differently because I haven’t come across research that focuses on that specifically. If anything, I think that you would approach patients from a less heteronormative viewpoint, but I’m not sure if this is a relevant issue currently in the profession.

I’m interested in working for a hospital or clinic that works with underserved populations. I am especially interested in the intersection of public health and genetic counseling through community-based outreach. So if you increase awareness and access to genetic counseling/testing, we would hopefully see better health outcomes for people in underserved communities over time because people might receive seek disease treatment earlier than they would have otherwise. Genetic counseling in conjunction with preventative healthcare may help with certain complex disorders like cardiovascular disease, which is a large problem in the African American community.

Everyone brings diversity to the table, even if you are in the majority demographically. We all go through challenges or experiences in our lives that make us unique, informs the kinds of topics that we’re interested in, and where we stand on different issues. Don’t be afraid embrace those experiences, even if they are difficult or personal because it may allow you to connect and emphasize with patients better.”

Maya shares with us how patients from a minority background might be able to relate more with a counselor who understands and relates to their culture.

“I identify as female, Indian-American/Asian-American (second generation) and bisexual. From what I’ve seen, genetic counseling is predominantly a white, female, and presumably straight population so I think I do add some diversity in terms of my racial background and sexuality. Without going into too much detail, I also have a medical disorder that has required me to make some hard decisions about my healthcare over the past few years, and I think that will give me unique insight when counseling patients as well. A couple unique experiences I have that are unrelated to genetic counseling are that I’ve danced nearly my whole life and helped run our student ballet group in college, and that I’ve volunteered with and raised money for my hometown’s local food pantry since I was 16.

We definitely need more genetic counselors from a variety of racial backgrounds. For one thing, people are often more comfortable and trusting with someone who looks like them or can relate to their values and belief systems. I have seen how some of my older relatives and other Indians have beliefs that aren’t completely aligned with modern Western medicine, and understanding this would help genetic counselors guide and support such patients appropriately. In terms of sexuality, I think it’s just always good to be cognizant of people’s life and relationship situations, especially in prenatal counseling. Finally, as I mentioned above, genetic counseling involves working through and understanding complicated medical decisions and I think that genetic counselors with relevant experiences can bring that shared empathy to their appointments. Obviously, genetic counselors can be just as empathetic and successful without this though!

My goals in my career relate both to my identity and to my current clinical research position. I work at a hospital that serves a largely urban, lower-income, African-American and Hispanic population and I think it’s essential to provide high quality healthcare services and support to such populations. I definitely want to work to increase healthcare literacy and access for a similar population. I would also be interested in working more with Indians or South Asians but I haven’t had that opportunity yet because they are a smaller proportion of the population where I live right now.

Like Nate said, everyone has unique life experiences that shape them into the caring, wonderful future genetic counselors they are! I think that just by virtue of being interested in this profession, we are all committed to helping people from every walk of life make informed decisions about their healthcare.”

Finally, Daniela emphasized the goal of a unified profession that can understand and serve people from all walks of life.

“I identify as female, Hispanic, and I am a DACA recipient. I was born in Peru and I came to the United States when I was 9 years old. At a young age, I had to adapt to a plethora of complex cultural differences upon arriving in the United States. My family and I were fortunate to end up in a city that is quite liberal and understanding of different moubackgrounds. I have overcome a lot of adversity, such as confronting language barriers, cultural differences, and the limitations of an undocumented status. I believe that my heritage and immigration status is underrepresented within the field of genetic counseling.  My experience as a DACA recipient is unique, and I am grateful for those who have given me the chance to reach my goals while simultaneously acknowledging my precarious future. I want to be an example for those who are confronted with the similar situations. Specific to my career aspirations in genetic counseling, I want to use my Spanish language and cultural understanding to expand the capability of the field so that more patients can be reached no matter what their race, culture, gender, and immigration status.

We need greater diversity in the field of genetic counseling because genetic counselors work with a heterogeneous patient population. The best way to integrate cultural, racial, gender, sexual understanding is to have a cohort that represents these differences. Genetic counselors with diverse backgrounds can help facilitate inclusion towards a unified goal of providing better care. I too believe that people with diverse identities will focus on issues that are important to them. They have lived through certain experiences and have a greater interest in aspects of the field that would otherwise have been overlooked. Additionally, the diversity of perspective can encourage discussions that can stimulate our minds, create a sense of unity, and help us become more understanding overall.

I am also interested in working with underserved populations in the United States and countries abroad. I want to apply public health, and healthcare policy and advocacy initiatives to expand medical genetics care to places that lack access to genetic counselors. My ten-year goal is to become an educator in the field and help improve access by fostering collaborations with hospitals abroad. I also want to research ways in which genetic counselors can be better advocates for their patients when a barrier exists between medical decisions and cultural beliefs.

I agree with Nate and Maya, everyone has their own unique set of experiences that shape them to be the person that they are now. Everyone has something to offer that adds to the diversity within our communities. No matter what the differences or similarities are, we are all here because we want to help make this world a better place to live by harnessing the potential of medical genetics!”

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Daniela looking adorable with a puppy. We all need this image right now.

 

Building diversity in the genetic counseling profession is a crucial step towards the future of the field, and these three have shown us how unique backgrounds make the field better. And yet, you don’t have to be demographically unique to contribute your own unique background to the GC field. I’m about as typical as they come, and yet I believe I still have something unique to offer. We all do!

As we’re all prepping for interviews, think about what makes you unique and what gives you a perspective that we need more of in the GC field. Maybe you’re coming out of a different career that gives you additional insight. Maybe you’ve got extensive experience with kids and feel extra ready to involve the whole family in a genetics appointment. Maybe you’ve been personally touched by a condition and you feel more empathy towards patients. Whatever makes you special, be confident in that. We need your perspective and talents in this field, and it takes all of us to create true diversity. There are lives that you will touch due to your unique background, experiences, and perspective.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

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