So Much More Than Just a Test

Wellcome Connecting Science | February 19, 2021

The power of film: Voices of genetic counsellors tour films festivals

Film has long been a medium suited to opening doors to issues, peoples and stories for wide audiences, which they previously may have been completely unaware of. The real-world impact this opening of doors can have is sometimes very tangible (just google “Blackfish effect”.) This has never been truer than now. The proliferation of streaming services such as Netflix has led to the rise in popularity of factual or documentary film. Free-to-use platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, combined with the massive reduction of cost and specialised expertise needed to make a film (even some theatrically released movies have been shot on iPhones) has truly democratised the medium. In the 21st century, if you want to communicate to as wide a group of people possible in a highly digestible way, moving image is the way to go.


This was the motivation for capturing nine interviews to camera in January 2019 to create the Voices of Genetic Counsellor series of documentary shorts. We capitalised on the opportunity of having many UK genetic counsellors in one place at the same time when they were at a training course hosted where we are based, the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge, UK (back in those magical pre-Covid days when courses and conferences were still held in person). Our plan was simple: get a handful of counsellors in a room one at a time, seat them in front of a plain white wall and have them talk straight down the camera lens as they answered two questions: “What are the unique skills of a genetic counsellor?” and “What are your recollections of a particularly memorable patient or case?” We wanted their stories to speak for themselves without distraction.


The original target audience for the short film series was UK policy makers, the people who are shaping the evolution of the National Health Service for the genomic era, in order to advocate for genetic counsellors by illustrating their unique and specialised role in the changing healthcare landscape. But the candour and humanity with which the counsellors responded, particularly recalling patients that had stuck with them, has made the films’ appeal to broader audiences clear. They have since been screened during genetics post graduate classes, at genomics conferences and So Much More Than Just a Test, a montage film weaving four of the stories of memorable patients together, has even been screened at a number of USA film festivals. We hope that through this exhibit the films can open the doors into the genetic counselling clinic for wider audiences still, especially patients, current and future, who may one day themselves be referred to see a genetic counsellor as a part of their clinical care.


This story was written by Lauren Robarts, Senior Manager, Wellcome Genome Campus Society and Ethics Research