Genetic Counseling

School of Health and Human Sciences

Natalie PoullardCareer Advancement in Genetic Counseling: Perceived Opportunities and Barriers Among Practicing Genetic Counselors
Capstone Project Committee: Nancy Callanan, MS, CGC, Sat Gupta, PhD (Statistical Consultant), Melanie Hardy, MS, CGC, Edward Williams, MS, CGC
Background: The NSGC Professional Status Survey reveals that while genetic counselors are satisfied with many aspects of the career, they are less satisfied with opportunities for advancement. Goal: Our goal was to assess genetic counselors’ perceptions of career advancement including perceived opportunities and barriers. Methods: An anonymous online survey was distributed to NSGC members. Of the 468 participants, 373 (77.5%) completed the entire survey. The Professional Excellence and Career Advancement in Nursing (PECAN) model was used as a career advancement paradigm for genetic counseling to examine factors that may contribute to or hinder career advancement. The model recognizes that advancement is influenced by several factors, including human capital (self-efficacy), social capital (mentorship), system (work environment) and external support (family/friends). Results: Participant definitions of career advancement included assuming new or additional responsibilities (71.5%), salary increases (49.5%) and promotions (41.2%). Although 69% of participants indicated that they had advanced in their career, clinical counselors were less likely to report career advancement (Fisher’s exact test, p-value= .009). Overall, participants perceived that there are limited opportunities for advancement (61%) and that counselors in industry (77%) or non-clinical positions (72%) have more advancement opportunities. Those who advanced reported taking on more responsibilities (86%), developing new skills (34%) or assuming supervisor positions (25%). The most common barriers to advancement included a “lack of structured advancement opportunities” (73%) and a “lack of knowledge from supervisors on how to use my skills” (44%). Having children/family responsibilities (30.8%) and striving to achieve work/life balance (26.4%) were the most commonly reported personal circumstances to impact career advancement. Conclusion: While the majority of participants had advanced in their careers, advancement opportunities for clinical genetic counselors were perceived as limited. Genetic counselors perceived that organizational barriers create a ceiling effect in the clinical realm that can often only be overcome by moving to industry or non-clinical settings. We propose that, in order to address this concern within the field, genetic counselors can establish a standardized career ladder that can be applied to a variety of settings.
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