Supporting a sense of inclusion and belonging for genetic counseling students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities

Nikkola Carmichael, Krista Redlinger-Grosse, Shira Birnbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Racial and ethnic minority graduate students in a variety of academic and professional disciplines have been reported to experience microaggressions and feelings of isolation during the course of their training. The purpose of this constructivist grounded theory study was to characterize the training experiences of genetic counseling students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities. The goal of enhancing racial and ethnic diversity has been discussed for decades within the genetic counseling profession, but the actual training experience of underrepresented minorities has yet to be fully explored. We conducted 13 videoconference focus groups with 32 recent graduates of genetic counseling training programs who identify as racial or ethnic minorities. This paper presents results from three of the thematic categories identified in that larger study: Participants’ interactions with classmates, Sense of belonging in the GC profession, and Available or desired supports. Participants reported experiencing negative interactions within their training program, during supervised clinical rotations, and at professional events; negative interactions included comments suggesting they did not belong in the United States, being confused with another non-white classmate, and intrusive questions or assumptions about their family, culture, or religion that were not similarly directed at white classmates. Trainees who were Muslim or Black/African American reported feeling particularly isolated by these incidents. Participants reported that they sought support from a variety of sources following negative experiences. Non-minority program faculty were perceived as able to offer listening or action but not understanding or guidance, which were perceived as more likely to be available from individuals who identify as racial or ethnic minorities. Results of this exploratory study suggest the need for training programs to ensure that appropriate supports are available to minority students, including diverse faculty and staff and non-program resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-827
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number3
Early online dateFeb 6 2021
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the first author’s Ph.D. in Health Professions Education at Simmons University. The authors would like to thank Dr. Daren Graves, who assisted with the design of the study and the analysis of the data, the many genetic counselors who provided feedback during the design phase, the Minority Genetic Professionals Network for their assistance with recruitment, and the participants who shared their time and perspectives.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Society of Genetic Counselors


  • Genetic counselors
  • belonging
  • diversity
  • graduate school
  • microaggression
  • minority
  • underrepresented populations

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Supporting a sense of inclusion and belonging for genetic counseling students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this