Development, Experience, and Expression of Meaning in Genetic Counselors’ Lives: an Exploratory Analysis

David M. Wells, Patricia McCarthy Veach, Meredith A. Martyr, Bonnie S. LeRoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Genetic counselors routinely engage with patients and families who grapple with questions of meaning while making decisions about genetic risk. Research and theory demonstrate genetic counselors gain important personal insights through their work and develop professionally from self-reflective practice regarding their beliefs and values. Data are lacking, however, about the nature of the meaning genetic counselors bring to their profession and how they directly experience and/or navigate issues of meaning within clinical practice over time. Accordingly, a national sample (N = 298) of practicing genetic counselors completed a brief survey assessing their demographic characteristics and willingness to participate in a semi-structured telephone interview exploring their views on meaning as they relate to their clinical work and professional development. Sixty-eight individuals of varied experience levels were interviewed about: 1) how they define a meaningful life for themselves; 2) lifetime sources of influence on their sense of meaning; 3) how they experience meaning within both personal and professional contexts; 4) work-related contexts that reaffirm and challenge their sense of meaning; and 5) how their sense of meaning has changed over time. Twenty-five interviews were analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research methods, at which point, data saturation was reached. Five themes, 32 domains, and 29 categories were extracted. Common findings include: importance of satisfying relationships; helping others; personal fulfillment; personal and patient experiences of illness and loss; religious and/or spiritual foundations; value conflicts; competing obligations; challenges to meaning; development of empathy; resiliency; and increased humility. Results suggest the importance of professional venues for discussions of meaning (e.g., genetic counseling program curricula, continuing education, and peer supervision/consultation). Additional findings, practice implications, and research recommendations are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-817
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc.


  • Genetic counselor
  • Meaning
  • Professional development
  • Purpose
  • Qualitative study


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