Examining clinical training through a bicultural lens: Experiences of genetic counseling students who identify with a racial or ethnic minority group

J Genet Couns. 2021 Sep 20. doi: 10.1002/jgc4.1506. Online ahead of print.


Biculturals are individuals who have had significant exposure to more than one culture and who possess more than one cultural frame of reference. In the United States, this term has been used to describe both immigrants and members of racial or ethnic minority groups who live within the majority white culture. Biculturals develop a distinct repertoire of social and cognitive skills and have been shown to engage in a process of cultural frame switching in response to salient cultural cues. Through a conceptual lens offered by current research on biculturalism, this article examines transcripts of focus groups we collected for a study on the clinical training experiences of genetic counseling students who identify with a racial or ethnic minority group. We conducted a constructivist grounded theory study, collecting data via 13 videoconference focus groups with 32 recent graduates of genetic counseling training programs who identify with a racial or ethnic minority group. We focus here on two of the thematic categories identified in that study related to participants' experiences interacting with patients during supervised clinical rotations. We find three ways in which being bicultural influenced these genetic counselors' patient interactions. First, participants described interactions with both culturally concordant and culturally discordant patients that highlighted the salience of their racial, ethnic, or cultural identity in these encounters. Second, they reported sensitivity to social nuances between and within cultures, reflecting the findings of prior research about heightened cultural awareness in biculturals. Third, they described switching cultural frames in response to their patients' identities which, at times, created conflict between their professional and culturally concordant frameworks. The results of this study suggest that the influence of a student's racial, ethnic, or cultural identity on interactions with patients should be discussed within the supervisory relationship, and that being bicultural confers advantages in learning to provide culturally responsive care.

Keywords: Genetic counseling; bicultural; cultural competence; minority; supervision; underrepresented populations.