John Simpson

I was surprised but obviously delighted when I received an email from Mr Terry Irwin, the TSS secretary, that I had been awarded a Price Thomas fellowship for the trip to Switzerland in 2011. Although I knew of the existence of the society it was only during the Society’s visit to Nottingham organised by Professor Lobo in autumn 2010 that I became aware of the fellowships. My application was broadly entitled the “Origin of symptoms in diverticular disease” which outlined research I have been involved with in Nottingham over the past 10 years.

A copy of the programme was duly sent, which looked packed with a mix of educational visits and exciting social events. It was certainly something to look forward to. Unfortunately my wife had to stay at home to look after our small children, otherwise we would have travelled together.

Departure day came and I met up with the group on arrival at Geneva airport. I had met some of the group previously in Nottingham but I must admit I was slightly apprehensive at this stage at the prospect of a whole week with the group. The apprehension soon evaporated as it became clear that, without exception, members and partners of the TSS are simply a great bunch of people who are clearly a pleasure to be with.

We travelled by coach to the Hotel du Lac in the picturesque town of Montreau. As the name suggests, it is located on the shore of Lake Geneva which provided a great back drop for the welcome reception on the hotel’s roof terrace.

Sunday was a great day. We travelled by coach up the picturesque valley from Montreux to the Col du Pillon and then taking a very scenic (and high!) cable car ride to the Diablerets Glacier at 3000m. The altitude and weather didn’t stop many of the group having a ride on the world’s highest toboggan run which is a 1000m track, which often runs close to a sheer drop and on which you can reach speeds of up to 25mph.

On Monday, the group travelled to Geneva for what turned out to be a very interesting day. In the morning we went to the International Committee of the Red Cross where Robin Coupland gave a presentation outlining the work of the Red Cross which was followed by an interesting and informative discussion on the training of future UK trauma surgeons. Following the presentations there was ample time to spend in the Red Cross museum where multimedia facilities outline the history of the humanitarian organisation. After lunch, we travelled to CERN (the European centre for nuclear research). A presentation outlining the history and current work at CERN was followed by a trip into one of the areas in which they test and assemble the massive tubular magnets used for the current experiments on antimatter atoms, 100m below ground.

On Tuesday we returned to Geneva for a hospital visit to the Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneve. Before lunch, time was spent in the operating theatre complex where we had the opportunity to see a laparoscopic colectomy using the Davinci robot as well as other procedures from a wide range of surgical specialties. After lunch at a local bistro, we returned to the hospital for presentations from members of the University department of surgery and members of the Travelling Surgical Society. I also presented some of my research but the highlight for myself was listening to Bill Thomas’s talk about the history of surgical education – a witty and enthralling romp through the ages.

On Wednesday we travelled to Lausanne where we spent the morning in the 20 theatre operating suite observing a wide range of procedures. Some members of the TSS had been to the institution previously – on a trip organised by the society over twenty years previously – so the trip brought back memories for some and time was spent catching up with old acquaintances.  An excellent lunch was served in the boardroom on the 20th floor of the hospital overlooking the city before an afternoon of academic presentations. The coach trip back to Montreux involved a visit to a vineyard on the slopes overlooking Lake Geneva – certainly a worthwhile detour!

On Thursday we caught a panoramic train from Montreau to Gstaad. The winding journey took us high above Lake Geneva and provided fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and wildlife. The journey from Gstaad to Saanen was made by horse carriage, a mode of transport I’ve not experienced before and much more comfortable than I expected I must say! We had lunch in Gruyères (cheese!), and then took a leisurely walk around the Castle of Gruyères overlooking the town. We then toured a local cheese factory and learned about the processes involved in the manufacture of the world famous Gruyere cheese.

Friday was a day of leisure with many people taking boat trips on Lake Geneva before we all attended the very sociable annual dinner which was held at a local restaurant.

The trip was fantastic. Yes, I did learn from the scientific programme but just being around members of the TSS I learned much more. Their training and career paths provided interesting listening, especially when contrasted with my own. But I also learned much about other areas – bee keeping, the history of St Kilda, making stained glass windows, flying in a harrier jet, growing orchids and making an outdoor pizza oven (in Scotland!), to name but a few.

I would highly recommend applying for the fellowship – the whole week was a great experience.