Today, on Genetic Counselors Awareness Day, we at Myriad Genetics want to recognize and show appreciation to all the genetic counselors who dedicate themselves to empowering patients with genetic insights for some of their most important healthcare decisions. We also honor the more than 130 genetic counselors who work at Myriad Genetics for everything they do, day in and day out, to serve our patients and healthcare providers. We are honored to be working with a team of genetic counselors that play a vital role in precision medicine, and are humbled by their unwavering dedication to patients and their families. 

Genetic Counselor Colleen Schmitt, a manager at Myriad Women’s Health, sat down with Nicole Lambert to get her perspective as someone whose career journey took her from genetic counselor to president, and whose personal journey has also been transformed by the power of genetics. 

What drew you to the field of genetic counseling? 

I worked in a molecular biology lab and loved the science but wanted a closer connection to the patient and to bringing that science to life.  Genetic counseling was the perfect way to do that. 

When I graduated from the Mt. Sinai program in 2000, adult genetics – particularly in cancer – was just starting to take off. I really appreciated the time and autonomy allowed for decision making with those patients. I also saw the power of carrier screening and prenatal testing with our Ashkenazi Jewish population, who simply demanded that testing and made it a reality. It really was an exciting time! 

Describe your career path – how did it bring you to Myriad? 

My first position after graduate school was with a private company serving the Houston Medical Center. I saw many different patients and really learned a lot about healthcare – it was a great place to prepare myself and for the board exam.  

When the BRCA genes are discovered I knew immediately that I wanted to work at Myriad Genetics. I loved the progressive, innovative nature of a company that was taking the science from academia and applying it to real patient care with a real sense of urgency. I got into genetic counseling to bring the science to life for patients in a meaningful way – and Myriad was doing that. I wanted to be a part of it.   

My first roles at Myriad were in the field, first as a regional clinical expert and later as a sales representative.  While I worked in sales, it never really felt like selling because I believed in the power of testing so much – I loved it. 

How did your role at Myriad evolve to where you are now? 

I’m a big believer in what Sheryl Sandberg says about your career being less of a ladder and more of a jungle gym. I thought less about moving up than I did about taking lots of different roles in the company that would allow me to learn as much as I could about how it worked. My scope grew and my career progressed to sales manager and strategic account roles, launching a new sales team, working in marketing, bringing teams into new markets, and finally overseeing some of our earlier stage business units like Dermatology and Urology, then on to our core businesses like Oncology and Women’s Health. 

Some people shy away from lateral moves because they feel they should always be moving “up” in an organization. I think if you are learning as much as you can and loving what you do, when the “up” comes you’ll be ready for it. 

Which of your skills as a Genetic Counselor have you used to gain success in this industry?  Which do you use most today as the leader of a large organization? 

One of the biggest skills genetic counselors can bring to any interaction (business or otherwise) is to be an active listener. Listen for certain words and also for the meanings and motivations behind them. Be fully present and be ready to learn. These are skills that often come naturally to genetic counselors, and these skills are extremely valuable in a business context.  I’ve used them in every role I’ve held and continue to use them today.  I like to think my listening and learning have improved over time, but the underlying skill set still remains as valuable, if not more valuable, than ever before. 

What advice do you have for Genetic Counselors inspired by your success? 

You have to love what you are doing. If you truly love what you are doing it gives you the stamina to push through the challenges that come with all jobs, to put in the long hours that success requires, and to ultimately be successful.