Article authored and provided by Myriad Genetics as part of a paid partnership with NSGC. The content, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Myriad Genetics, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
When you’re a genetic counselor, there are many different ways to utilize your experience and help people. Seeing patients as part of a medical practice or hospital is the most common. But there are also great opportunities for genetic counselors to work for genetic testing companies.
To learn more about what these roles look like, we sat down with Shelly Cummings, a certified genetic counselor who serves as Vice President of Oncology Medical Affairs at Myriad Genetics. She has been a genetic counselor for nearly 30 years, working directly with patients for the first half of that time and working in industry ever since.
How do you spend your time at Myriad Genetics?
In this role, I think a lot about the long-term strategy for my team, which consists of 16 medical professionals, a mix of nurses and genetic counselors. How can I support my team to help customers and ultimately help patients? Some of our work is immediate problem-solving — for example, a doctor has questions about a specific genetic test — and some of it is longer-term, such as what research questions we need to answer to help advance clinical guidelines for genetic testing. I spend a lot of time on phone calls and in meetings!
If you’re not seeing patients every day, how do you have an impact on patient health?
Going from regular genetic counseling practice to industry is a big leap. But I can have an impact on more patient lives by educating physicians, who see more patients in a day than I as a genetic counselor used to see in a week. In my work at Myriad Genetics, I also support medical societies with educational materials and conference presentations. Helping those experts learn when and how to incorporate genetic testing ultimately makes a difference for the lives of countless patients.
What kinds of questions do physicians ask you?
If we launch a new product, we’ll get lots of questions from the medical community about how it differs from other tests on the market. For example, when we went beyond germline testing to offer somatic cancer testing, physicians wanted to understand how to think about that for their patients. My team does an outstanding job of highlighting the science we’ve put into all of our products. We have all worked directly with patients in the past, so we are able to describe the technical detail at a level that’s appropriate for physicians and also in a simpler way they can use with their patients.
We also get questions about results and the reporting of results. My team works through all of that with clinicians so they have a clear understanding of how to explain it to their patients.
Since you began as a genetic counselor, what are some changes you’ve seen in the field?
I’m seeing more medical practices that have genetic counselor assistants, people who take the family history, manage the paperwork, and handle sample collection. None of that was available when I was in practice. It means that today’s genetic counselors can work at the top of their scope and spend their time on the most important things: seeing patients, making sure tests are right for them, interacting with physicians, and reviewing results. I am also encouraged by the use of newer service delivery models, such as telehealth, to expand patient access to genetic counseling services.
For Genetic Counselor Awareness Day and in recognition of Genetic Counselor Appreciation Month, meet Summer Pierson. Summer is a genetic counselor and the director of Product Research and Development at Myriad Genetics. Watch this video where she talks about how unique genetic testing is and the importance of GCs that support helping people understand the meaningful information that comes from genetic testing.