Here at Myriad Genetics and in recognition GC Awareness Day, we have long been committed to building the best team to help our customers and patients — and that includes a large number of genetic counselors, who have the training and expertise required to help people make sense of genetic test results. A great example is Shelly Cummings, a certified genetic counselor who serves as Vice President of Oncology Medical Affairs. She has been with the company for nearly 15 years.

Q: What’s your role at Myriad Genetics?

A: I have the privilege of leading 16 medical professionals, a mix of advanced practice oncology nurses and genetic counselors. We work to support customers in the field such as physicians, nurses, and other genetic counselors. We’re there for any kind of medical assistance they need, from soup to nuts. In addition to helping those customers understand which test to order, how to use it, and how to interpret results. We also work closely with patient advocacy groups and leaders in the field to advance clinical guidelines and expand access to genetic testing.

Q: How did you get started on this career path?

A: I had fantastic teachers in third grade, eighth grade, and junior high school who sparked my interest in science. After graduating from Indiana University with degrees in biology and psychology, I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to be. Somebody told me about this field of genetic counseling that incorporates biology, psychology, and patient care. It sounded really interesting. I got my genetic counseling degree from Northwestern University. My first job as a genetic counselor was at the University of Chicago in the department of hematology / oncology. I spent 13 years there seeing patients, writing books, doing research, giving presentations, teaching, and educating physicians about how genetic counselors can help them manage patients. It’s been the perfect fit for my personality and skill set.

Q: What brought you to Myriad Genetics?

A: I like to grow and be challenged. By the end of my time at the University of Chicago, I had reached the top of what I could do there. I had been working with Myriad for years because that’s where we were sending our tests, so I knew the company and had friends there. A recruiter called me and I made the leap to industry. In almost 15 years here, I’ve held all kinds of positions that have helped me grow and learn. Every day I’m very grateful to have this opportunity. By working at a genetic testing company and educating physicians about these tests, I can have an impact on more patients’ lives than I ever could have as a genetic counselor seeing patients referred to me.

Q: What improvements do you think are coming soon for genetic testing?

A: Service delivery models are the lowest-hanging fruit to make people more aware of testing and better able to access it. People need to be informed of the option so they can make the decision that’s right for them and for their belief system. But too many people don’t even know this is an option. We need to meet them where they are, whether that’s with telehealth options or connecting them with genetics-savvy doctors in areas that don’t have many genetic counselors available. We all have to be open to the idea that there isn’t just one right way.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past three decades?

A: The biggest change is that testing used to be a “nice to have,” something that might be done after people completed their cancer treatment to help find out if their family members were at elevated risk of cancer. The misconception was that there was no immediate impact for the patient. But now, knowing their genetics is important for guiding their treatment, such as making surgery decisions and selecting a therapy. Insurance companies have also become more aware that genetic testing is a cost savings to them because it can identify patients at increased risk so they can be followed differently, with more frequent screenings. Now genetic testing is a “need to have” for a large range of cancers.

Q: What’s something you wish more people knew about genetic testing?

A: The power that it gives them in taking control of their health. If we know someone is at increased risk, they can get increased screening and be followed differently to help create better outcomes. Genetic testing gives people insights that can help them, their physicians, and their family members.

Q: If you weren’t at Myriad Genetics, where would you be?

A: Knowing what I know now and having done what I have done in my career so far, I would be a professional mentor for people who wish to grow in their careers. That, or have a flower shop so I could work the other side of my brain for a few years.