Genetic counselors in a wide variety of roles have been called “non-traditional” or “emerging,” and lumped together as “laboratory and industry.” Defining this group of genetic counselors is a complex task. Whatever they are called, they represent a large percentage of the workforce: 25% of genetic counselors work in indirect patient care, and approximately 30% work in a laboratory or industry (LI) role (NSGC PSS, 2020). An in-person meeting of the Lab and Industry SIG (LISIG) in 2018 sparked a conversation around not just how this group is labeled, but how they are perceived by the genetic counseling community. The LISIG created a stepwise plan to explore these experiences.
Step 1: Start the Conversation
At the NSGC 39th Annual Conference , the LISIG sponsored a plenary session entitled “Pariah or Pioneer? Stories of Expansion.” Several genetic counselors in pioneering positions discussed their successes and challenges working in LI roles, including tackling misperceptions. (Yes, you can pass the board exam while working in industry!)
Step 2: Gather Data
Literature describing LI genetic counselor experiences is limited, and what exists discusses their experiences as secondary findings (Groepper, et al., 2015; Hippman and Davis, 2016; Zetzsche, et al., 2014). In 2019, an exploratory survey was sent to LISIG members regarding interactions and perceptions within the broader genetic counseling community. Results were shared in a platform presentation at the 2020 AC and demonstrated that a significant number of LI genetic counselors perceived that genetic counselors in non-LI roles treated or viewed LI genetic counselors differently, compared to their non-LI peers (p<0.0001). Additionally, the majority (65%) of LI genetic counselors indicated they felt judged for choosing an LI job.
Several research studies ensued to investigate these perceptions, and why LI genetic counselors feel this way. This topic is the primary research question in a study by Joe Strohmeyer, a student at Northwestern University. Beyond confirming the LISIG exploratory study results, it is a fascinating commentary on the current state of LI genetic counselors and will help guide future research. Here are some of the intriguing findings (stay tuned for the full publication):
- Many LI genetic counselors feel that they are considered a positive contribution to the community by LI genetic counselors, but not by other genetic counselor colleagues.
- LI genetic counselors perceive that the company they work for is the strongest factor contributing to how they are viewed, rather than title or role.
- LI genetic counselors who graduated between 2013-2020 are significantly more likely to report feeling well-prepared for their roles, compared to graduates from 1978-2003.
Further investigation of these perceptions is needed. If biases towards LI roles exist, how and where do these biases arise? These are excellent topics for all genetic counselors, students, and program leadership to explore.
Step 3: Continue the Conversation!
These initial surveys, presentations, and studies are just the beginning. More research is ongoing, and we hope this glimpse has intrigued you to learn more about the experiences of LI genetic counselors. Change requires participation from everyone in the community. To learn more or get involved, join the LISIG or start a conversation with your colleagues!