At a time when few topics could take the world’s attention away from the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of racial equality and diversity have recently risen to the forefront of national conversation. We have all been called upon to critically assess our biases and actions within our personal and professional lives.
Nikkola Carmichael, MS, CGC, with the help of dozens of her genetic counseling colleagues and the Minority Genetic Professionals Network, published the featured article confronting the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the field of genetic counseling from the perspectives of recent genetic counseling students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities. Insights from minority genetic counseling students are vital at a time when training programs are looking for guidance on equity and diversity.
Carmichael collected this data as part of her dissertation while earning her doctorate in Health Professions Education at Simmons University. She anticipates publishing at least two more articles on her dissertation research.
“One [article] will most likely focus on supervised clinical rotations: the challenges that students encounter due to their minority status, as well as the ways in which we are failing to recognize and develop their unique skill set,” Carmichael says. “The second [article] will focus on participants’ sense of belonging in the training programs, clinical environment, and profession as a whole and the ways in which training programs, supervisors, and colleagues can better support them.”
“As I was completing my dissertation, I found several master’s theses that I would have loved to cite, but I was not permitted to do so because they had not been published in a peer-reviewed journal,” she continues. “It is crucial that student work is submitted for publication so that others in our field can continue to build on it.”
Carmichael’s undertakings are impressive. She is the Senior Genetic Counselor in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital where she devotes a large part of her time to gene discovery. She now also has a PhD in Health Professions Education from Simmons University. She has enjoyed research throughout her education and career. This joy began while working on her master’s thesis project on the diagnostic odyssey for children with neuromuscular disorders during her genetic counseling training at Brandeis University, and her interest in research has continued.
Carmichael has some words of advice for genetic counselors interested in contributing to research in our field. She recommends finding a topic that you are passionate about and seeking out colleagues and a network that will provide you with support, encouragement, feedback, and accountability.
“My advice is to not try to do research in a vacuum,” she says. “Find individuals who are excited about your idea and will encourage you when you are discouraged. Find a mentor who has strengths in areas that you are weak and who is willing to help you develop your skills. Create deadlines and find people who will hold you accountable to them.”