We have been pleased to see the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) continue to acknowledge the urgent need to prioritize justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) efforts in the genetic counseling field. As two genetic counselors of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have felt and welcomed this culture change, we were inspired by Deepti Babu’s beautiful speech at the 2022 NSGC Annual Conference. Her presentation mirrored our own visions for the future of our profession and included strong recommendations to drive culture change at our own organization.
We belong to a commercial genetic testing laboratory with over 100 genetic counselors, where much change has already been implemented, but where there is also room to grow. Sharing our experience at the company may help others think about how they too can promote these mutual goals.
We believe that long-lasting change must come from the inside and must be seen at every level of an organization, especially in leadership. Culture change at our lab has been driven by J.E.D.I. initiatives that are rooted in reshaping systems, where diverse ideas are exchanged and valued. As employees, we have noticed this difference. We always felt welcomed at our workplace, but when inclusion was added as an official corporate value, the knowledge that employees at all levels were being held accountable to the mission brought us greater assurance in the vision of our institution.
For us, a real shift happened when we were invited to attend multiple health equity trainings and join employee resource groups. The creation of these groups has provided platforms for advocacy and fostered thought leadership from voices that otherwise may not have had the opportunity. In one effort, volunteers and advocates worked with the Myriad Pride Alliance on the Gender Inclusive Language Project to create gender-inclusive test request forms and patient/client-facing materials. We were happy to see the efforts of this collaboration pay off and are hopeful that the results of this work will set an example for an industry-wide culture of inclusivity.
As healthcare providers, we want our workforce to reflect the communities we serve. Thus, it is important that J.E.D.I. efforts be aimed externally as much as internally. One way in which industries can foster long-term culture change is to support future generations of genetic counselors. For example, our organization supports a 10-week Rotational Scholars Program for STEM students from North Carolina Central University (NCCU), a historically Black university in Durham, NC, to introduce them to the genetic counseling profession at a crucial time in their education. Volunteers from our company can also participate as guest lecturers at NCCU, generating excitement for the field at a grassroots level for the promise of a more equitable future. At another historically Black university, Xavier University of Louisiana, our company made a financial donation to support the development of a new genetic counseling program.
Commercial laboratories can also use their resources and visibility to promote J.E.D.I. efforts through corporate outreach that goes beyond financial support. With this goal in mind, our company partnered with the National Medical Association, the largest organization representing African American physicians in the U.S., and the National Hispanic Medical Association. Industry team members attend their conferences and colloquiums and collaborate on events centered around pipeline development and networking for minority healthcare providers. The company also sponsors scholarships for physicians from these professional societies to receive training and participate in the Intensive Course in Genetic Cancer Risk Assessment through City of Hope.
Finally, we acknowledge that genetic testing laboratories have an added responsibility to make products more equitable, accessible, and affordable. We also recognize that this task is not easy and takes time. With that, we challenge our organization and others to continue to prioritize research and collaborations so we can achieve the common goal of reducing healthcare disparities.
Every institution — even a genetic testing laboratory like ours — can be a catalyst for change. These examples only touch the surface of the many ways that individuals and institutions can implement culture change for their community and patients. These examples also demonstrate that J.E.D.I. initiatives take patience and humility. They require deep collaborations with advocates, all without placing undue burden on the members of a marginalized community. But we are hopeful to witness that J.E.D.I.-inspired culture change is possible, and well worth the investment of time and resources. We know there is more work to be done and hope to see J.E.D.I. efforts continue to be prioritized at our organization and at others. The roadmap for culture change Deepti highlighted in her speech provides the foundation to do just that.
Article authored and provided by Myriad as part of a paid partnership with NSGC. The content, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Myriad, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the National Society of Genetic Counselors