Genetic counseling student demographics: an empirical comparison of two cohorts

Andrea Stoddard, Pat McCarthy Veach, Ian M. MacFarlane, Bonnie LeRoy, Rebecca Tryon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Genetic counseling student characteristics may be evolving with the expansion and diversification of the genetic counseling field. We compared characteristics and previously accrued experiences of genetic counseling students enrolled in the 2018–2019 academic year with genetic counseling students surveyed by Lega et al. (Journal of Genetic Counseling, 14, 395; 2005). Four-hundred thirty students completed a survey (60% response rate) assessing demographics, select application experiences, encouragement and discouragement to apply to genetic counseling programs, and career certainty and motivations. Data analyses comprised descriptive statistics, content analysis of open-ended responses, and t tests and chi-square tests to compare responses to variables also assessed by Lega et al. Similarities between the two cohorts included most students being female, White/Caucasian, and biology majors; they reported a similar amount and type of support and discouragement; and they had strong career certainty. Salient group differences included the current cohort having a larger proportion of males (8% versus 3%; p=.007), greater percentage of parent(s) with a high socioeconomic status (SES; 31% versus 17%; p=.005), a lower first application cycle acceptance rate (71% versus 80%; p<.001), and they were more strongly influenced to pursue genetic counseling by future income (p<.001), desire to help others (p=.002), the profession's prestige (p<.001), and programs’ 2-year duration (p<.001). Students applied to an average of six programs during their first application cycle and paid, on average, $1,648 for all application and interview expenses in their acceptance year. A vast majority (99%) had advocacy experiences (most commonly crisis intervention) and shadowing opportunities (94%), and 26% worked as genetic counseling assistants prior to their acceptance. Most students were interested primarily in cancer genetics at the time of survey completion. The genetic counseling field should continue efforts to improve racial and gender diversity and identify ways to increase program accessibility/affordability for individuals at all SES levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-228
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 12 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the first author's Master of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. The authors would like to thank the graduate students who participated in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Society of Genetic Counselors


  • application experiences
  • career certainty
  • career motivation
  • demographics
  • genetic counseling students
  • training programs

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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