Dr. Shirley Jordan Seay, PhD, MSN, MEd, ODS-C

“In this life don’t ever let anybody tell you what you can’t do, or what you are not capable of doing, or put you down. Turn it around and make those comments your inspiration and motivation to do what they thought was impossible.” Words of advice from Dr. Shirley Jordan Seay, a ODS-C who lived her own life by those words and embarked on an amazing professional journey.

As Seay’s Cuyahoga Community College Alumni Spotlight begins, “The journey from GED to Ph.D. was long and challenging for Shirley Jordan Seay, but it has been rewarding as well. Living in the Wade Park-Superior neighborhood on Cleveland’s East Side, Seay attended Glenville High School but transferred to John Hay for its data processing program. Seay recalled, “When I showed up for class, I discovered that my spot had been given to someone with better connections.” Seay then planned to attend John Hay at night to finish high school, but her husband suggested she just earn her GED and go to college. She received her GED in 1975 when she was 20.”

After she earned her GED, she entered nursing school and after graduation, Shirley served 20 years in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps, retiring in 2002 with the rank of Major. She then began her career in the cancer registry field in 2004 after having a storied career in the medical field. To list all her accomplishments and credentials would take several pages. This article will only focus on what she has accomplished as a cancer registry professional.

Not many people would take a $25 an hour pay cut to join a profession, but Shirley was intrigued by the cancer registry as the foundation of cancer research and was impressed with the role of the cancer registrar. In 2001, she was hired as the Cancer Program Administrator at Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and there was only one ODS. She soon discovered that she had to be certified to supervise a ODS, so she earned the necessary certificate to add ODS to her list of credentials. It didn’t take long after her certification for her to rise to the top. In 2013, Shirley was elected as President of the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) and in 2021 was the recipient of their Distinguished Member Award.

She received a Master of Science in Nursing Administration in 2003. But Shirley didn’t stop with her ODS credentials and in 2010, she earned her PhD in Health Care Administration. Thankfully for the profession, cancer registry was her primary interest, and she chose to share her talents and education to train and develop new cancer registrars and is currently the Professor/Cancer Information Management Program Director at Santa Barbara City College and adjunct faculty at Cuyahoga Community College.

Shirley’s latest publication is “Reportability and Case-Finding,” co-authored with Laura Vondenhuevel and published in Cancer Registry Management: Principles and Practices for Hospitals and Central Registries, 2021. She also had multiple articles published in the NCRA Connection 2007-2018Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and various nursing journals including the American Journal of Nursing. She has given more than 30 presentations with subjects ranging from the fundamentals of abstracting principles to cancer screening to cancer survivorship. Her favorite activity is teaching and watching her students grow from novices into ODSs.

Shirley likes to get registrars on the right track with their coding principles at the beginning of their cancer registry journey. One example is the importance of text. As Shirley states, “You have to be able to support the codes you are entering with text. It is hard to code incorrectly if it’s documented in the text.” Additionally, she shares, “Do not put your interpretation in the text fields, as the text should reflect what is in the medical record. Your interpretation of the text is demonstrated by the accurate codes you enter in the abstract.”

If she had the power to change anything, Shirley would like the standard setters to give examples of correct coding – especially for controversial coding issues – so that it is clear to everyone (an example is worth many less questions on the forum!) Also, when addressing questions dealing with clinical issues, consider having a clinical expert respond to the questions.

For fun, Shirley enjoys Friday night poker games with her husband. Seven card stud is her favorite! She also enjoys family time, especially around the holidays, with her husband, two daughters, six grandchildren and extended family.

Always looking toward the future and her next challenge, Shirley says “Registrars examine, analyze, and interpret data on a regular basis. Maybe it is time we take the leap and join the pool of cancer researchers.”