My journey to becoming a genetic counselor, like many others, was filled with challenges and uncertainties. However, unlike my peers, I happened to be a DACAmented student (or DREAMer), and this came with a unique set of difficulties and pain lasting almost a decade.
One month after I started working as a genetic counselor, I received a call from my immigration attorney to inform me that I had been approved for legal permanent residency (also known as a green card). My coworkers witnessed this monumental achievement and joined me in celebrating what seemed like the most unreachable dream. It was one of the first times in my adult life where I cried tears of happiness and felt free.
Although I no longer carry the weight of DACA on my shoulders, being a DACAmented student for so many years has permanently changed me. I will always feel heavily connected and protective of this community.
Currently, I am the only Spanish-speaking cancer genetic counselor providing bilingual services in Tampa and (to my knowledge) the entire central Florida region, including Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Sarasota, among others. This is not something I am proud to say. In fact, it’s sad there are so few of us, especially in the state of Florida where Spanish is the second-most spoken language.
My presence in clinic has resulted in many patients preferring to speak Spanish for their appointments, without the use an interpreter. Only those who have struggled communicating in another language will understand the difference that receiving healthcare in your own language can make.
I have had the opportunity to engage in unique opportunities to better serve historically underserved populations, such as traveling to Puerto Rico to lecture about genetic services and appearing on a well-known Spanish TV channel to advance the public understanding of genetics. Similarly, I often attend meetings and events to increase awareness of genetic services for Hispanic/Latino patients.
It has been an incredibly rewarding ten months since my graduation. I am proud to be able to look at healthcare from the lens of an undocumented, uninsured immigrant and to identify health disparities as well as other areas requiring improvement within our clinic.
I have always been fearful of discrimination and avoided disclosing my DACAmented status to strangers. I am finally comfortable speaking about this subject. While serving Spanish-speaking patients is my main priority, I also want to inspire those students who are still protected under DACA and may want to pursue a genetic counseling career.
The genetic counseling field will benefit enormously with the continued addition of genetic counselors from diverse and underprivileged backgrounds. I encourage you to please not give up on your dreams.