An overview of ethnicity and assessment of family history in primary care settings

J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2006 Oct;18(10):447-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7599.2006.00156.x.


Purpose: To discuss the importance of and the nurse practitioner's (NP's) role in the assessment of ethnicity/family of origin in conducting a multigenerational family history in primary care settings.

Data sources: A review of the literature on past research results addressing racial and ethnic disparities and current articles from scientific journals exploring the relationship between race and genetics. Web sites were from the National Institutes of Health, the Human Genome Research Institute, the National Cancer Institute, and the Health and Human Services Minority Health and Disparities report.

Conclusions: The family history has received renewed interest due to the sequencing of the human genome. A multigenerational family history is an important first step in screening for a multitude of disorders impacted by genetic susceptibility, shared environments, and common behaviors. Assessment of the patient's ethnicity/family of origin is an integral part of the multigenerational family history, particularly in the diagnosis of chronic diseases and the assessment of risks for genetic disorders. The multigenerational family history is important in diagnosis, predictive genetic testing, disease prevention, and health promotion. Challenges facing NPs and the utilization of a multigenerational family history in the current U.S. health system include (a) training clinicians on the correct assessment and utilization of a multigenerational family history, (b) assessment of the subtleties of ethnicity and identifying multiple ethnic groups within a family, (c) collection of the family history in a manner that is sensitive to the cultural beliefs of individuals, and (d) avoidance of stereotyping.

Implications for practice: Significant advances in genetics and genetic testing requires that NPs be well versed in collecting and interpreting a multigenerational family history to include assessment of the patient/family's ethnicity/family of origin. The ability to effectively conduct and evaluate the individual's and family's health risk through a multigenerational family history will be important in diagnosis, health promotion, disease prevention, and the determination for genetic counseling referral and predictive testing when appropriate. Assessment of risk and prevention of disease is also important in reducing health disparities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health / ethnology
  • Clinical Competence
  • Ethnic Groups* / ethnology
  • Ethnic Groups* / genetics
  • Forecasting
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genomics
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Information Services
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Internet
  • Mass Screening
  • Medical History Taking / methods*
  • Nurse Practitioners / education
  • Nurse Practitioners / organization & administration*
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Nursing Assessment / organization & administration*
  • Nursing Evaluation Research
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Risk Assessment