Tara Clancy is an Honorary Consultant Genetic Counsellor/Senior Lecturer in Manchester, UK and is now Chair of the BSGM’s Ethics and Policy Committee. She will be giving the ELPAG Award Lecture on Tuesday 13 June at 14.15hrs.

Tara Clancy’s interest in healthcare started when she was young. “My younger brother died of leukaemia when we were kids, and my dad died of gastric cancer when I was a teenager. I think it was those two events that had the most impact on my choice of career, though I also enjoyed studying biological sciences at school.”

She went to university in Manchester, where she took a degree course that “was a combination of science, social science and philosophy, and I liked that it incorporated subjects beyond basic science. Afterwards, although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the long term, I knew that I wanted to work in the public sector, particularly the National Health Service and probably in a clinical role. So, I then trained as a nurse. I found that the training lacked teaching about counselling skills, such as how to discuss challenging issues with patients and their families. This led me to do a certificate and then a diploma in counselling theory and skills. A post was advertised in the Clinical Genetics Service in Manchester as I was completing the diploma course.

“I’ve often felt that I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time – not really in a passive way, but in situations that opened up opportunities. This was one of them, and I moved into genetic counselling, which in turn led to my deepening interest in ethics. I did an MA in healthcare ethics and then a PhD in law and ethics, both at the University of Manchester. My career evolved along with my interests, and one of the things this led to that I found especially rewarding was being appointed as a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.”

Mentoring students, trainees and colleagues earlier in their careers has been important to her. “Because it’s a fairly small world, I have been able to follow their careers. I have tried to encourage others and facilitate their choices. I was given opportunities myself and could make the most of them, but if you don’t offer others opportunities, then they can’t develop and progress professionally to their full potential.”

Genetic counselling is as much, if not more, about listening as it is about explaining, she says. And this doesn’t apply to healthcare alone. “I think that the fact that we, as humans, often find it hard to really listen to each other, have discussions and come to agreement (or to agree to disagree) is regrettable. And the pandemic, while it didn’t create this problem, seems to have exacerbated it. Too many of us focus on winning arguments without attempting to understand the other point of view. But it doesn’t have to be like that.”

If she could have chosen any occupation apart from healthcare, she would have liked to do something creative like glassblowing or sculpture. “But I don’t think I really have any artistic talents.”

Since giving up clinical work, Tara has trained as an accredited paediatric medial mediator. She is also involved in professional activities at a national level such as chairing an NHS England Policy Working Group. In terms of other interests, she is taking a pause. “I think that’s a good thing to do from time to time, although I am tempted to try something more creative and artistic.”

She will be telling the conference about how she sees the problem of people not listening to and hearing each other and suggesting some solutions. “I’d also like talk about the relationship and tensions between (apparently) objective scientific realities and people’s real-life experiences.”