Home > commentary > finding the guys in genetic counseling, part 2

finding the guys in genetic counseling, part 2

As I’ve mentioned multiple times, voices from males in the genetic counseling field are few and far between. The following study from the Minnesota training program perhaps sheds a little light on the issue, although know the caveat that the conclusions and comments stem from only a sample of 3 male students.

From the following 2007 article, Schoonveld KC, Veach PM, LeRoy BS. What is it like to be in the minority? Ethnic and gender diversity in the genetic counseling profession. J Genet Couns. 2007 Feb;16(1):53-69., a few quotes from the 3 man-students that were interviewed:

“It’s like I’m an outsider. There’s this small group of us, and I’m always the one to be singled out or excluded …”

“I do feel that I was given the opportunity to interview at more schools because I am male”

“Patients always seem to think that I’m the doctor. It’s frustrating to get the question of ‘Why didn’t you go to medical school?’ from my patients! Like I couldn’t cut it, or like genetic counseling is somehow less of a field”

“A lot of the girls [sic] see things as since I’m a guy I was let in. So they set lower expectations for me and don’t expect me to do well”

“The people who interviewed me seemed to indicate that gender might be an obstacle. I almost felt like they were trying to deter me from the field”

“There are certain preconceived notions like, “He’s a guy, he’ll need more help with the feeling stuff.” Professors/supervisors seem to expect that I’ll know more of the medical/hard science stuff. Some of the professors or the male MDs still ask why I don’t go to medical school”

“It is really helpful to have him [my roommate, who is not in the program] around to sometimes just do guy things. It’s nice to talk about concrete things versus how I feel about things. He maintains my masculine sanity”

“I feel that I might be able to understand what the father is going through better than some females would …”

In comparing the experiences of males to those of other “minority” or self-identified “underrepresented” identity groups in the field of genetic counseling, the authors discuss:

Since the males had spent most of their lives in the majority vis-a-vis their gender, their more recent minority status as graduate students might be more distressing than for the female student participants who have a history of being in the minority because of their ethnicity.

In the present study, male participants appeared to be most adversely affected by their peer relationships. One male participant stated: “[my classmates] don’t even attempt to allow me to be a part of the group, but rather assume that we are so different it is not worth it.” It is unclear if a similar disparity exists among practicing genetic counselors, as all of the male participants in this study were students. Some participants sought out organizations or environments where they were guaranteed to interact with others from a similar ethnic/cultural group, especially the males, who expressed a need to do masculine things.

These above two comments are contrasted to the authors’ initial hypothesis:

1) Individuals identifying with an underrepresented racial/ethnic group would have more negative experiences within the field than would male participants

It definitely provides an interesting view of the experience of males, individuals of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, and the potentially expanded implications on men who are of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.

On another note, how about the actual practice between males and females? Heh. Good luck finding literature there. I did find the following article from 1984 (!!!!): Zare N, Sorenson JR, Heeren T. Sex of provider as a variable in effective genetic counseling. Soc Sci Med. 1984;19(7):671-5. Here are their conclusions from the study, taken with a few grains of salt, given that these ‘genetic providers’ were majority of an M.D. training background…

So.. “statistically significant” differences between many genetic-medical issues, but.. wait, no difference between socio-medical issues? Wait, let’s look at those numbers.. they’re all really low anyway so how useful is that information?

What’s interesting about the above data is “relationship with other children” under soci-medical. a difference of 25 to 5.9 isn’t statistically different? Again, low numbers.. I suppose?

What I’d be most worried about are the more counseling-aspects especially “raising a child with a birth defect”, “helped with most personal concerns” … but instead those were not statistically significant. What the authors claim was statistically significant (with a p-value of 0.06? no, that isn’t..) is “failed to ask about all concerns” with males faring worse.

The authors final conclusion:

Available data suggest that women patients seen by male providers. in genetic counseling at least, are likely to receive neither as exhaustive a discussion of selected basic medical and genetic topics, nor as much discussion of the specific topics they came to counseling to discuss. as do women patients seen by female patients.

Frankly, that’s a bit ridiculous based off of this data. Really? Gonna make those arguments based on a comparison of 8.6% to 17.6%. Oh, right, they’re MDs and not genetic counselors. And.. the study is 25 years old.

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