Robert Huey qualified from Dublin vet school in 1983. He is Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland (DARDNI) veterinary service.
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What made you decide to start working in public health?
I spent five years in a mixed general practice living the Herriot dream – happy farmers, happy animals; sector in decline, no money. Partnership didn't seem like a sound investment to me. My father had been a government vet for 43 years and enjoyed his career, so why not?
How did you get to where you are today?
Soon after becoming a government vet, I was asked to take on a teaching job at a DARDNI agricultural college. I spent many happy days imparting knowledge and skills to farmers of all ages. After a couple of years it became repetitive and I needed a change.
The Veterinary Service in Northern Ireland provides policy advice and delivers animal health, welfare and meat hygiene. This made the move from animal health to meat hygiene as an Official Veterinarian easy. I loved the work. The autonomy an OV has to manage a team of inspectors, the personal responsibility to maintain or improve standards, and working with the industry can give job satisfaction hard to find elsewhere. I had to know more about it, so I completed the RCVS certificate, then the diploma, and after talking about meat hygiene, writing about meat hygiene, examining others in meat hygiene, it seems I knew too much, so I was promoted, and promoted…
How do you spend a typical day?
My job is about making sure other people know what they have to do and have what they need to do it. It's also about trying to ensure that the policy and politics side asks us to do the right things to protect animal and public health and animal welfare.
What do you like about your job?
The people who do things better than you had even dared anticipate. Enthusiastic people, people who try their hardest and do their best.
What do you not like?
The other people.
Why is your job important?
The livestock and meat industry is important to the Northern Ireland economy. An effective veterinary service supports and adds value to that industry. An ineffective service has the potential to damage it.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
I have found the government veterinary service, and in particular meat hygiene policy and delivery, to be a fulfilling career. Like a lot of jobs, you get out what you put in.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
My first boss told me to ‘always remember that people like their animals to be killed by nice people’. What he meant was that if a client feels that you care about what you are doing and trying your best, they are more understanding if things don't work out the way you both hoped. It applies no matter what you trying to achieve.
What is your proudest moment?
Professionally, being elected to hold the post of president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association. Although I have led the Veterinary Public Health Association in the UK, and the Union of European Veterinary Hygienists in Europe, there is something special about being selected by the people who know you best.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I'm not good at remembering faces, and increasingly I'm getting worse with names. When in practice I had spent most of one day on a farm with a farmer. At the end of the visit I asked him to follow me into the practice to collect some medicines. I made my way back to the office, went round to the public counter and confidently asked the person on the other side if I could I help him. He'd changed his clothes; I didn't recognise him.
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