Dr. David Thomson
Chief of Staff, Surgery, Riverbend Animal Hospital
Dr. David Thomson, DVM opened Riverbend Animal Hospital in 1999 with Ann McEwen. Initially, he handled all the wellness care, medicine, and surgery cases. Since 2004, however, as the referral-surgery side of the practice has grown, his work has been exclusively in surgery.
Thomson graduated from Harvard University in 1976. After spending a year as an assistant shepherd in Wales, he went south to attend the Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, graduating in 1982. Following that, he undertook a 14-month internship program at Rowley Memorial Animal Hospital/MSPCA in Springfield, then stayed on as a staff doctor.
In 1988, Thomson was accepted into the three-year residency program in surgery at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Following successful completion of the program, he returned to the MSPCA/Angell Memorial Animal Hospital West in Springfield, where he joined the staff as a surgeon prior to opening his own practice in 1999.
What elements of your field do you find most interesting? Surgery. It combines using my head and using my hands. I’m also really challenged but love working on staff issues, helping to build and maintain our Riverbend culture.
How did you become interested in animal care, and specifically surgical care? I grew up with ducks, hamsters, turtles, and Tommy, a fat beagle who tipped over trash cans, stole things off the table, and bit you if you tried to stop him. At Harvard, I took zoology and behavior courses, but I loved organic chemistry the most. My interest in surgery is one of those wonderful lucky flukes. I came to the MSPCA hospital in Springfield for an internship straight out of veterinary school with little idea what I was doing. Dr. Joseph Stoyak, a world-renowned surgeon, was the head of the hospital. I lived in a room upstairs in the hospital, and I worked really long hours for my first six months, doing all the work an intern does and spending all my spare time watching and assisting in surgery with Dr. Stoyak. I learned so much that first year and found my passion in surgery.
What is most gratifying about your work? It sounds corny, but I love the real joy we can bring to owners when we fix their animal, especially if I’ve had a long relationship with them.
Is your work emotionally taxing sometimes? Being a veterinarian can be enormously taxing. The death of a patient is always hard. But I have to say, when a patient is sick and suffering, euthanasia can be a gift. The actual process of euthanizing a patient can actually be an affirming experience for both the owner and me. Harder for the psyche is the surgery that does not go well, the patient who does not get better, or the client who is frustrated or angry. You can do your best, but things do not always go well. That’s very hard when you’ve done your best.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A baseball player.
How do you define success? When I am proud of what I do and when I help to bring joy to my family, my co-workers, my friends, my community, and even the wide world beyond.
What three words best describe you? Kind, fun, adventurous.
What are you passionate about? Treating others honestly, with respect and compassion.
Who has been your best mentor, and why? Dr. Stoyak started me on my surgical path. He took me under his wing, taught me so much, and passed on his passion for surgery. My favorite story is about being reprimanded for repairing a battered stray in the middle of the night; Dr. Stoyak called me into his office, shook his head, and gently scolded me that I should not be fixing unowned strays. And then he went on to explain in careful detail how I should have done the repair differently.
Who inspires you, and why? Oh, well, another corny answer, but it is my partner, Annie. She does all the things I cannot do. She deals with the intricacies of running a business, and, more importantly, she has built and fostered a unique and deeply caring culture at Riverbend. She is honest, transparent, and has her heart on her sleeve.
What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? Charles Darwin. I think the theory of evolution is essential to understanding … geez, everything! And it would be really cool to meet him and tell him how he continues to upset the right-wingers.
What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Kim, from Rudyard Kipling. My father read Kim aloud to us. I loved so much the opening of the book — his life as a street urchin in Delhi, his sense of adventure, his confidence, his openness to whatever might come. The llama who travelled across northern India with Kim called him “friend of all the world.” My mom called me that, too. Also, David Copperfield, the title character of one of my favorite books. Maybe it’s his fortitude, making his way in the world despite enormous odds. I had it pretty easy — great family, excellent education — but I was still totally unknowing of myself as I set out in the world.
What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? To do my best. That means being prepared, being clear, being open, and, most importantly, finding gratitude and joy in whatever I do.