Growing up in a Hmong family taught me the importance of giving back to the community. In the 1970s after the Secret War in Laos, my parents immigrated to America. Their stories of survival encourage me to make the most of every opportunity I have and to invest in future generations. This inspired me to pursue a research project highlighting the need for earlier exposure to genetic counseling by diverse role models within the community.
For my graduate research project, I introduced genetic counseling to approximately 150 8th grade students at the Community School of Excellence, a Hmong charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to the pandemic, I met with students over Zoom during their science classes. My presentation included information on genetic counseling and a mock session featuring a Hmong family’s experience. Although I wasn’t able to meet the students in person, I still gained two valuable insights.
The importance of representation
As a student, I wasn’t exposed to a variety of career paths and for the careers I was exposed to, the presenters never looked like me. Now that I’ve gained experience, I want to assist students in similar situations. Even if students aren’t specifically interested in genetic counseling, I want them to believe they are capable of pursuing a career of their interest. For smaller communities such as the Hmong community, it can be harder to find and connect with professionals who are of the same ethnicity. Technology offers a platform for students to connect with professionals who look like them.
Our responsibility to invest in the future
As a genetic counselor, I hope to increase awareness of both genetic counseling services in the Hmong community and genetic counseling as a profession. Feedback from students indicated this was their first introduction to the field of genetic counseling. Although many weren’t sure about their future career, as the Happenstance Theory states, we don’t know which encounter will have a future impact on their career decisions (Krumboltz, 2009). While it would have been amazing to hear students say they wanted to become genetic counselors, this was not my primary goal. My goal was to make a connection and be a resource for students who might not have such an exposure.
I want to do for the next generation what past Hmong generations have done for me. The genetic counselors who pioneered this field created a path for current genetic counselors. Now it’s our responsibility to do the same for future generations of genetic counselors. As we think about the future of genetic counseling and the need for a more diverse workforce, let’s utilize our resources and skillsets to start conversations with students who may not be exposed to career paths such as genetic counseling.