Perceived social support: A study of genetic counseling graduate students in the United States (US) and Canada

Sierra Clark, Victoria Kennel, Sarah McBrien, Kaeli Samson, Holly Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Social support is described as having positive psychological and physical outcomes and offers some protective benefits against mental illness. However, research has not addressed social support for genetic counseling graduate students, although this population is prone to elevated levels of stress in addition to field-specific phenomena like compassion fatigue and burnout. Therefore, an online survey was distributed to genetic counseling students in accredited programs in the United States and Canada to synthesize information about (1) demographic information, (2) self-identified sources of support, and (3) the availability of a strong support network. In total, 238 responses were included in the analysis, yielding a mean social support score of 3.84 on a 5-point scale, where higher scores indicate increased social support. The identification of friends or classmates as forms of social support significantly increased social support scores (p < 0.001; p = 0.006, respectively). There was also a positive correlation between increased social support scores and the number of social support outlets (p = 0.01). Subgroup analysis focused on potential differences in social support for racially/ethnically underrepresented participants (comprising less than 22% of respondents), revealing that this population identified friends as a form of social support significantly less often than their White counterparts; and mean social support scores were also significantly lower. Our study underscores the importance of classmates as a source of social support for genetic counseling graduate students while uncovering discrepancies that exist in social support sources between White and underrepresented students. Ultimately, stakeholders in genetic counseling student success should foster a community and culture of support within a training program (whether traditionally in-person or online) to encourage success among all students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-856
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • genetic counseling graduate students
  • social support
  • underrepresented populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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