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News > Life After Hymers > Laura's Medical Career

Laura's Medical Career

Laura French, OH 1994-2004, is a consultant in Public Health
Laura French
Laura French

We recently heard from Laura French who studied at Hymers College from 1994 to 2004, starting in Year 4 and completing her A-levels in Year 13.  We asked her about her memories from Hymers and how her career has developed since leaving school.

Are you still in touch with anyone from Hymers?

Oh yes, many of them! I suspect we’ll be friends for life.

Who was your favourite teacher?

Ha! I don’t have favourites, but I will always be hugely grateful to all my A- level teachers for their fab teaching and good humoured tolerance of my consistent ‘taking on too many things at once’ approach to life. I’ve not changed much in this regard.

What is your fondest memory of Hymers?

It’s hard to pick one out of ten years (which were a long time ago now) but I have very fond memories of sitting with friends on the grass outside the JCR during summer lunchtimes and dodging the various wildfowl that seemed to think they owned the place.

Where you in any extra-curricular activities?

As I’ve alluded to above, I am never happier than when extremely busy and this was always the case at Hymers. Music was, and still is, a hugely important part of my life. I always played in string group, orchestra, quartet and sang in various choirs and ensembles (and occasionally and nerve-wrackingly, solo). I am so incredibly grateful for the grounding that the Hymers music department gave me in ensemble playing and introducing me to the joy of being part of group music. I have never stopped playing; I played with my university orchestra and then briefly the Hull Philharmonic. I’m now settled in Sheffield and a fixture in the local music scene there, playing the viola in the Sheffield Philharmonic and Hallam Sinfonia Orchestras, plus the occasional moonlight with other ensembles when needed! The advantage of being a viola player is that you’re always in demand. Unfortunately I don’t get the chance to sing anymore as much as I would like other than the odd ad hoc performance, but I reluctantly have to also make time for my day job!

At Hymers, I always loved being part of any and all school drama productions. I have always loved being on a stage, especially in costume, and was so grateful for the chances that I had at school to take part in many really great productions. It also helped that my Mum is a dab hand with a sewing machine and always loved helping with wardrobe requirements for any plays. There are probably more things I used to do but they have been lost to me in the mists of memory.

After her A-levels, Laura went straight to medical school at HYMS (Hull York Medical School).

What career path have you followed?

A slightly meandering one! Although I have always worked in medicine and health care, I have had a very varied career so far, for which I feel very fortunate.

I have been incredibly fortunate in the opportunities that my career has afforded to me so far, and despite the well known difficulties of working in the NHS at the moment, I still am lucky enough to love what I do and to find something every day to get excited about. It wouldn’t be completely true to say I always wanted to be a doctor; however, I had always loved the sciences, particularly biology, and I also knew I wanted a job that involved working with people and not just microscopes.

I got a voluntary job with a sexual health charity locally delivering peer education and SRE curriculums to other young people in the city, and through this, I got some work experience with a local Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology/Sexual and Reproductive Health, accompanying her in her work. I was lucky enough to do a few other bits and pieces of work experience (this was back in the days where you could just ask local clinicians if they could have you for a day!) but I knew almost immediately on that first day with the O+G consultant that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’m not sure how pleased my parents (both doctors themselves) were with this decision, but they went along with it nonetheless!

I was lucky enough to come through the medical school applications lottery with an offer from HYMS and so I went off to take up my place in the September following my A-levels. After five years at med school I came out with a reinforced enthusiasm for the job and a particular love for Obs and Gynae, as well as public health and infectious disease. After my foundation training years in North/East Yorkshire, although I was pretty certain what speciality I wanted to do (O+G), I still wanted more general experience and a chance to see some of the world before starting the training programme treadmill. Consequently, I had a fabulous year and a bit working in emergency medicine and trauma in a small hospital in NSW Australia.

On returning to the UK, I still had around 8 months before I was due to start my training post in O+G, so I took the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do which was go to Liverpool to study for the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the School of Tropical Medicine. After a bit more travelling (because, why not?) I started my training in obstetrics and gynaecology. I did this for three years and I absolutely loved it, despite it being a really challenging specialty at times. Unfortunately life doesn’t always read the plan, and I got ill and had to have some time off. Although the programme were very supportive of me switching to part time training, I took this opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do with my career. Whilst I loved the clinical work, I had always had an interest in public health and was experiencing a creeping frustration with the systemic and population factors that were obviously contributing to the problems we were seeing in hospitals, but were also completely out of your control as a hospital clinician. I could often see that my patients were living and working in incredibly difficult social or financial circumstances and their health was suffering as a result. At this point, I made the difficult decision to switch specialty and applied for public health training. Public health training posts are incredibly competitive but I was lucky enough to be offered one in my first choice deanery, so it felt like fate was nudging me towards the change!

Public health training was brilliant. Completely different from clinical medicine, and initially a little bit disorientating for this reason, but I soon grew into it, got my Masters in Public Health and my Specialty membership exams and started to feel at home. Luckily, the work really suited me, I enjoyed the analytical and problem-solving nature of the work, I got to use my technical epidemiology skills and infectious disease knowledge, and the chance to influence health at a population level was incredibly rewarding. Your role as a public health doctor is primarily as an advocate for your population in accordance with public health principles of equity, quality and efficiency and, although sometimes you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, generally speaking, it is immensely rewarding.

Having left Obs and Gynae for a slightly quieter life away from 3am crash caesarean sections, the peace was shattered in early 2020 by the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic. At the time I was working as a research fellow at the Nuffield Institute for International Health and Development in Leeds doing global health research, but was soon recalled to my usual post in Leicester as all hands were needed on deck - Leicester was the first local authority area to be put under a local lockdown. This was a bit of a baptism of fire for me as a Public Health registrar approaching the end of my training as I was expected to step up and take on responsibility beyond what I had before, as the workload for the team was immense.

I became lead for the covid testing programme in Leicester city, and was still doing out of hours on calls for PHE answering queries on covid outbreaks. During the day we spent a lot of time answering queries and advising schools, work places, care homes and other settings on covid management, and trying to keep up with the ever changing guidance! Turns out being a communicable disease control expert in a pandemic makes you very busy indeed. Although it was a very difficult time for everyone, I can’t deny that it definitely accelerated my professional development and gave me skills and confidence that I may not otherwise have gained. Towards the end of 2020, I also became Public Health lead for covid vaccination in the city. I also got my first experience of influencing (or attempting to influence) national policy and by advocating hard for the people of Leicester, occasionally managed to make myself slightly unpopular with the DoH… I think they’ve probably forgiven me now though.

Things are a little more settled in the covid world now, and I am now a consultant in Public Health Medicine in Leicester City. Turns out I couldn’t bear to leave the team I’d got so close to during the pandemic, and the work is incredibly interesting. I still spend a lot of my time working on covid vaccination, and less on testing, but I also have acquired a few other non-covid responsibilities (including sexual health) which are a nice change! Monkeypox has caused a slight ripple of disruption for us so far this year. If I was being completely honest, I didn’t ever think I would need to use that part of my tropical medicine diploma whilst working in the UK, but here we are! There’s never a dull moment in Public Health.

Throughout Public Health training I have continued to work clinically as a locum in my old job - Obs and Gynae. Covid has hit medical staffing hard and so I help them out when I can. This allows me to keep my clinical skills up, catch up with my former colleagues and not forgot the particular pressures of front line working. Things are incredibly tough for them at the moment and so I find it important to keep me grounded in the reality of frontline NHS when I am abstractedly planning services at a population level. The best thing about going back to do these shifts is the patients. I came into this career because (cliched as it is) I love people and want to try and be of some use to them. Whilst population level medicine is intensely rewarding, for me, nothing beats the interpersonal aspect of medicine and the connection that you make with people when they trust you to share and help them through some of the most important and difficult moments of their life. I must have delivered hundreds of babies by this point in my career but every single one still feels incredibly special, and a huge privilege to be a part of. Medicine is an incredible career, varied, challenging, rewarding and with the potential to take you anywhere in the world. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to do it.

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