Thursday, April 27, 2023
Enrique Lopez, MS, LCGC, is a genetic counselor at Saint Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, NJ. As an ABGC Diplomate, he serves as cochair of the diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice committee.
His dedication to the profession and determination to make it inclusive for people of all backgrounds certainly makes him worthy of a spotlight. Below, read how he came to the profession and the challenges and celebrations he’s experienced along this journey.
Why did you choose to become a genetic counselor?
I honestly never heard of the profession until I was halfway through my undergraduate career. I was fortunate enough to be guided towards shadowing and was then suddenly met with individuals who had an intricate knowledge of not only genetics but of psychosocial counseling. I observed them provide care in a compassionate and considerate manner, and they fostered my love for genetic counseling. They will always be a core reason why I practice in this field.
This profession combines my love for genetics and the arduous process of navigating medical, social, and psychological implications with individuals and family members who have genetic conditions. I chose it because I can make a difference not only for the individual in front of me, but for their family as well.
Can you tell us about your current role as a genetic counselor?
I currently work as a pediatric, cancer, and prenatal counselor in Paterson, New Jersey. The three specialties are involved in my weekly practice continuously; however, I focus more heavily on pediatric genetics. It turns out that if you’re too indecisive about what specialty you want, you can just practice all three! I do enjoy aspects of every specialty, but I enjoy the continual care that pediatrics provides so much. It’s also convenient to be able to self-refer between specialties as well.
Practicing every specialty is a significant reason for why I took this current role; however, what made me truly consider it was the type of population we serve.
Close to 50% of the patients I see are from underserved communities and primarily speak Spanish. I provide counseling in Spanish and Portuguese, and after doing so for over a year now, I don’t see how I could practice any other way.
Lastly, although this isn’t a part of my clinical genetic counseling role, I am also an independent contractor to the New York Mid-Atlantic and Caribbean (NYMAC) Regional Genetics Network. Their aim is to provide genetic services and support to underserviced communities in states and territories encompassing their domain. I’m one of the contributors, alongside many others, to increasing access to genetic services and hopefully establishing the field of genetic counseling in the territory of Puerto Rico.
What has it been like for you as a genetic counselor who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I’d say that from what I’ve personally experienced during graduate training and in my current role, I haven’t had any adverse experiences in regard to my sexual identity specifically. However, I know not all individuals will have the same exact experience, unfortunately. For the most part, the genetic counseling community is generally welcoming of the LGBTQIA+ community, which can make for a safe environment to practice in the profession.
The LGBTQIA+ community is small within genetic counseling, and I’m meeting more individuals who are a part of it and always looking to meet more!
How has being part of the LGBTQ+ community influenced your work as a genetic counselor?
It’s been easier to put myself in other people’s shoes because of me being gay. I experienced so much doubt, uncertainty, fear, anger, and so many other emotions when coming to terms with my sexuality. It allows me to identify these emotions in stressful situations, because I’ve been through so many of them myself. It makes for a safe environment when I’m counseling, since no judgement is passed for feeling a specific emotion or thought.
I also value the perspective of so many other individuals in my community because there isn’t a universal way of thinking, and that’s how you create inclusivity — by listening to everyone.
What advice do you have for members of the LGBTQ+ committee who are referred for genetic counseling? What advice do you have for genetic counselors and other health care providers caring for their patients who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community?
The most important thing is for someone to be comfortable enough in a session, so they can express what they want and what they expect. That unfortunately is not possible at all times, and so inquiring about a considerate provider may be something worthwhile. Being comfortable can vary drastically from person to person, but for some, it means explicitly stating their sexuality. For others, it means identifying pronouns, and for others, it may mean not stating anything at all. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
I think my advice to other LGBTQIA+ healthcare providers is to always engage in meaningful conversation. That for me starts when I contract. Asking what someone’s specific concerns are, if there are any questions, and if there is anything an individual would like to tell me about themselves that would impact the session from their point of view. Even though the LGBTQIA+ community is a minority, it certainly does not mean we are alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other individuals in the community to ask for support or to simply form a connection.
What guidance do you have for prospective genetic counselors who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community?
I echo the same message above I gave for providers. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Ask how your experiences may be valuable in this field and how it will ultimately affect you. At the end of the day, there will always be someone in your corner, and I’ll definitely be one of them.
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