Hunting for zebras: the enculturation and socialization of genetic counselors
Sitter, Kailyn E.
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Genetic counselors (GCs) serve as health professionals who bridge the gap between patients and genetic medicine. Understanding the processes of genetic counselor enculturation and socialization gives a better picture of how these unique clinicians navigate the spaces between biomedical explanatory models and patient illness narratives, especially pertaining to how biomedicine has influenced how GCs experience the world and shape their professional and personal identities. In this two year-long study, I observed GCs, their students, faculty, patient presenters, and other guests of a genetic counselor training program (“GC Program”) to better understand the ways biomedical discourse is internalized and perpetuated through generations of students. Through semi-structured interviews, a free-listing exercise, and the analysis of applicant essays, I focus on how ritualized process leads to the experience of biomedically influenced periods of enculturation and socialization for GC students, applicants, and professionals who have graduated. I discuss how technology and materializing devices allow for the construction and interpretation of genetic identities closely tied to a counseling profession, which can either magnify the personal identities of its members or alienate those who feel as though they do not belong. The identities of genetic professionals force patients into ideal medical imaginaries; however genetic counselors set themselves apart from overlying biomedical structures as clinicians who defy norms to better take care of their patients. Last, I provide suggestions on how the field of genetic counseling can expand its interpretations of genetic citizenship and responsibility to broaden its reach and deepen its rich history of compassionate advocacy for its patients and members.