Conscripted curriculum: The experiences of minority genetic counseling students

Nikkola Carmichael, Krista Redlinger-Grosse, Shira Birnbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the genetic counseling profession has been discussed for decades, little attention has been paid to the training experiences of under-represented minorities. Under-represented minority graduate students in other disciplines have been reported to experience microaggressions and feelings of isolation during training, and they are often informally enlisted to educate classmates about issues related to race. In 2019, sociologist Lauren Olsen coined the term conscripted curriculum to describe the utilization of minority medical students to elucidate issues of race or ethnicity for their classmates. The conscripted curriculum arises when these topics are taught in a small-group discussion format that relies on students sharing their individual experiences to educate their classmates. In classrooms with limited diversity, the expectation to contribute falls disproportionately on students from non-majority groups. In this qualitative study, we conducted videoconference focus groups with 32 recent graduates of genetic counseling training programs who identified as racial or ethnic minorities. We present the results of two thematic categories that emerged from that study: the participants' perspectives on the cultural competency curriculum in their training programs and the participants' feelings of being pressed into service as spokespeople for their cultural groups. Participants described the cultural competency training as occurring primarily in a small-group discussion format in which students were expected to share their personal experiences. During these discussions, minority students, especially those in less-diverse class cohorts, felt obliged to contribute their perspectives in order to educate non-minority classmates about issues of race and ethnicity, leading to feelings of frustration and exhaustion. The results reflect a conscripted curriculum as described by Olsen (2019). Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 60(1), 55–68, in which minority students bear the burden of educating their classmates about the social basis of race. Genetic counseling training programs should critically examine their cultural competency curriculum to create a more equitable training environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-314
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • conscripted curriculum
  • cultural competence
  • diversity
  • genetic counselors
  • graduate school
  • minority

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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