FOR generations, the portraits of past presidents that line the walls of the RCVS council chamber and the main staircase at Horseferry Road have gazed down at people who look pretty much like them: overwhelmingly white, middle- aged, middle-class males.
But the next council meeting will be graced by one member who differs in every possible way from the stern-faced patriarchal figures in those dusty Victorian paintings and later photographs.
In her youth, gender, ethnicity and cheery disposition, Mandisa Greene will present a face that reflects the changing nature of the UK veterinary profession.
Some might resent the suggestion that they could be the poster child for improved diversity in the profession but Mandisa responds with a characteristic chuckle. “No, of course I don’t mind. I would like to see a more diverse profession and am happy to do what I can to help achieve that.
“If my presence on the council encourages other people from under-represented groups to come forward, that can only be a good thing. Until then I am happy to be a voice for those people who I feel aren’t always properly represented – recent graduates, parents with young families, ethnic minorities and people with international backgrounds,” she says.
Mandisa was born in London to West Indian parents who returned to Trinidad when she was two years old. At 18 she came to England but was unable to catch the eye of the veterinary school admission tutors and so she bided her time taking a degree in biological and medicinal chemistry at the University of Exeter. As a mature student she was accepted onto the veterinary course at Edinburgh from where she graduated in 2008.
For several years she worked in mixed and small animal practices in Staffordshire and for the past 12 months has been based at the Northside Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Great Barr, Birmingham.
Critical care medicine is very satisfying on a professional level as well as suiting her personality, she says. “It is important for my ego to feel that I am appreciated and emergency care is an area where you will get lots of clients coming up to thank you and to tell you that you are great,” she jokes.
Despite a busy career and the responsibility of caring for her two little boys, aged two and four years, Mandisa was motivated to put her name forward for election to the governing body for her profession.
“I realised that the Royal College was making decisions on important matters that affected me and others like me and that there are occasions when the council’s actions weren’t in tune with my experience of being a veterinary surgeon.”
Mandisa is referring particularly to the Chikosi case in July last year. She was one of the hundreds of practitioners who signed an online petition protesting at the harsh treatment that they felt their Zimbabwe-trained colleague had received before the Royal College disciplinary committee.
Many practitioners develop a keener understanding of the actions and motives of the RCVS once they have been through the doors at Horseferry Road. Also in this case, the college’s standards committee accepted the need to improve the advice offered to those practitioners called to an out-of hours emergency and it has rewritten the relevant sections of the Code of Professional Conduct. So is she satisfied that there is now the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of vets providing emergency care?
“Yes I am. I think the committee has taken account of the concerns that we expressed and it has done what it needed to do in addressing them.”
Concerned about changes
But that does not mean she will toe the party line if she is asked to vote in council on matters affecting the disciplinary process. She admits to being concerned about the changes taking place in the make-up of the preliminary investigation and disciplinary committees to involve greater input from lay members.
“It is important that a veterinary surgeon should be judged by his or her professional peers. That means people who understand what it is like to be a veterinary practitioner and the choices that they may have to face.”
Nor will she remain quiet when faced with the inequalities that still affect women at work, in veterinary practice as in many other professional environments. She is familiar with claims that new female veterinary graduates will earn typically around £500 less a year than their male former classmates and that significant disparities may remain throughout their professional careers.
“There is no easy solution to this issue and if change is going to happen it will have to start with the individual women graduates looking after their own interests. It is a matter of empowerment. There also needs to be more openness from both employers and staff about salaries. The Royal College can perhaps help this process by encouraging that dialogue.”
One way to achieve this is through getting more young veterinarians involved in professional politics. As a member of a generation that has grown up with information technology and the inexorable rise of social media, she sees an important role for these technologies in encouraging two-way communication between the Royal College and its grass roots.
“I know that there will be some older members of council who are more comfortable with traditional paper media. But if we are to succeed in engaging more closely with our membership we will need to communicate information to them in those ways that are easiest for them to access.”
Asked what her personal goals will be for her spell on council, she is momentarily ummoxed. “I don’t know, I don’t really have any personal ambitions in professional politics.”
It appears that the motivation in standing for the council is much the same as that which first made her want to be a veterinary surgeon at the age of seven. “I guess that I would like to be able to feel I have done something to make things better.”