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Royal Central Conversations: Desmond Thompson

In November 2013, The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) launched a new honour amongst their ranks: The Queen’s Medal. The Medal is reserved for veterinary surgeons whose careers and lifetime achievements deserve wider recognition.

With the support of peers in the House of Lords and Members of Parliament, the College submitted their proposal to the Cabinet Office and Her Majesty The Queen supported the decision to name the award after her.

The Queen has been Patron of the College since her accession in 1952.

Last month, she presented the first ever RCVS Queen’s Medal to Mr Desmond Thompson; a veterinary surgeon from Northern Ireland whose career has seen him serve as the President of the RCVS, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons and the Northern Ireland Veterinary Association.

Queen Elizabeth II presents Desmond Thompson with the first Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Queen's Medal, in a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Elizabeth II presents Desmond Thompson with the first Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Queen’s Medal, in a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

I got the chance to ask Desmond some questions on how he felt about being the first to receive the award and the opportunities in the wider veterinary industry.

Desmond, what was the first thing that ran through your mind when you found out that you’d been awarded The Queen’s Medal?

My initial reaction was enormous surprise followed by pleasure in that I believe there is no greater accolade that anyone can achieve than peer recognition.

Having put in a nomination myself I could think of many colleagues who have done so much more than I have but someone must have felt me worthy of receiving it.

What was the experience of the audience at Buckingham Palace like? Any specific feelings on the day?

To have a private audience with The Queen along with my 3 colleagues, was a marvellous experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

My specific feelings I have difficult in describing other than to say excitement mixed with humble pleasure that The Queen should consider our great profession worthy of not only putting her name to the medal but also granting a private audience in the Palace for the occasion.

What would you say is the most exciting opportunity/development in the industry at the moment?

There are many exciting opportunities in different fields for the profession.  The most important, I believe, is to recognise the tremendous advances in medicine and surgery in terms of prolonging a good quality of life for animals and also ensuring that the welfare of those animals is paramount at all times.

This a question of recognising that illness or injury inevitably involves an element of suffering and accepting that where the prognosis is grave that euthanasia is an option which should not be ignored.

With farmed animals which are reared for food production, their welfare at the time of slaughter is also critical.

Likewise, are there any specific challenges you feel the veterinary industry faces at the moment?

The major challenge for the future is ensuring that educational standards can be maintained and that the current over production of veterinary graduates in Europe does not continue.

There is a system in place whereby the EAEVE (European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education) an independent body within the profession in Europe inspects those veterinary schools which wish to be accredited, but regrettably there is no pan European legislation to make this accreditation essential throughout Europe.

European legislation is such that if a veterinary university degree is acceptable in a given member state, it is automatically recognised in all.

During your tenure at the RCVS, what would you say has been your favourite moment or a specific moving, poignant moment?

During my tenure at RCVS, my greatest pleasure came at the admission ceremonies at each of the veterinary schools.  It was always very exciting and gave me a great buzz to personally meet bright enthusiastic young veterinary surgeons about to start out in a career in our great profession and wish them the best of luck in the future.

There was one particular occasion when I had the double pleasure of admitting the daughter of a colleague who was one of my best friends. I was also privileged when I was President of RCVS to attend the moving memorial service for Alf Wight (James Herriot) in York Cathedral.

Are there any projects (industry-related or not) which you are working to raise awareness of?

I have no interest in raising awareness of myself but I have always done my best to support young members of the profession and as such I have a particular interest in the Young Vet Network.

I also believe that the profession should be doing everything possible to preserve and promote good mental health and do all that we can to support colleagues who may not be coping as well as they should.

Outside the profession I am a great advocate for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. These wonderful dogs do a tremendous lot to help people who have a disability which is invisible and rarely fully appreciated by society.

Royal Central would like to thank Desmond Thompson and The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for their time and cooperation.

Image Credit: PA Images – by kind permission from the RCVS.

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