My Leeds story - George Higginbotham (Medicine)

We are extremely proud of the achievements of all our graduating students at Leeds, but especially our Class of 2020, who have completed their studies in such challenging circumstances.

We know that our graduates are keen to make a difference in the world, so each month we are shining a spotlight on a Leeds alum who graduated in 2020.

In November we spoke to George Higginbotham. George studied medicine before graduating early to join the NHS frontline in the fight against Covid-19.

My Leeds story
George Higginbotham

Start by telling us how you came to choose to study at the University of Leeds? 

I always wanted to study somewhere different to where I grew up, and from the moment I set foot on campus, Leeds felt really welcoming – I think the bunting outside the union definitely helped! I’d also heard that Leeds was a great city to live in as a student - with great nightlife, people, and links to the countryside.

I really liked the design of the medical course, and speaking to current medical students at the open day was really encouraging. I found the Medical School to be very supportive and transparent throughout the interview process, so I was really happy when I was offered a place!

Coloured bunting outside Leeds University Union

What was your experience of living and studying in Leeds like – tell us about your course and what clubs and societies you were involved in during your time at the University?

I was in Leeds for six years in total – five years of my medical degree, and an additional year completing an intercalated degree in Clinical Anatomy. As cliche as it sounds, those six years absolutely flew by! I loved living in Leeds, it’s such a great city, and I found my course really engaging.

I was involved in a few societies at Leeds, predominantly those within the medical school. I was on the Medical Students’ Representative Council for a total of 5 years in various roles – it was rewarding to act as a point of contact for my year group, putting across our concerns and queries to help to improve the course.

Your final year at Leeds wasn’t quite as you would have imagined it, tell us about graduating early and your emergency role in the NHS. What was it like to have your studies cut short and be drafted onto the COVID-19 frontline? 

My final year at Leeds was definitely very different to how I imagined it! When the University first closed and we went into lockdown, medicine was prioritised for teaching to continue. Unsurprisingly, it was a really uncertain time, and none of us were sure how and when our studies would end. Before long, our clinical placements were disrupted as the hospitals prepared for the rising numbers of patients with Covid-19. We all had to be a lot more flexible, and it was decided that final exams would be cancelled, with performance in previous assessments used to determine eligibility to graduate early and join the NHS.

In May, I began working as a doctor in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Services at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI). I was quite apprehensive, especially as the department had been given the responsibility of looking after one of the main Covid-19 wards alongside caring for emergency plastic surgery patients.

Leeds General Infirmary

Although I had initial worries about starting work in such an uncertain time, I learnt so much from my time there, and it felt good to be helping out, even in a small way, as the pandemic continued.

I worked there until the end of July, before moving to Bristol to start a new role. As much as I love Leeds, I felt ready to explore a new city. That being said, I wanted somewhere with a similar cultural atmosphere and with a good arts and music scene like Leeds, so Bristol seemed like a good choice!

I’ve started work in the Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery Department, and it’s been really enjoyable so far. Working in such a busy specialist department, you never quite know what kind of conditions you’ll see from day to day. These first two years of working are primarily about learning the ropes of being a good (and safe) doctor, but I’ve still had the opportunity to learn plenty about orthopaedic surgery. It’s a leap from being a student, but I think that my early graduation has helped ease the transition.

Leeds General Infirmary

What have you learnt about yourself after being in lockdown? As you have been working throughout, it must have been quite a different experience to some of your peers!

I found the initial few weeks of lockdown quite tough – it was before I started my role at LGI and it really highlighted to me how much I appreciate regular interaction with my friends. It felt quite isolating at times, but it did give me opportunity to start to explore parts of Leeds I hadn’t seen much of before, like parts of Meanwood and Kirkstall. I’m normally someone that likes keeping busy, so it was quite a surprise how much I appreciated the slower pace of life – it gave me time to process everything that was going on, with plenty of time to look back on my great memories of being at Leeds.

I felt very lucky to have a job during the later parts of lockdown, and it certainly gave me a purpose and a useful support network. Having a built-in support network at the hospital is something I’m really grateful for, especially as we deal with the challenges of lockdown number two.

"There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the months ahead, so I’m just trying to take each day as it comes!"

George Higginbotham (Medicine 2020)

Although we weren’t able to welcome you to campus for a graduation ceremony – did you do anything with friends or family to celebrate your achievements? 

It obviously came at quite a surreal time, but my friends and I managed to have some celebratory drinks over a Zoom call! As a cohort, our traditional graduation plans had to be put on hold, but I’m sure we’ll return to Leeds for a proper celebration at some point (whenever that may be!).

Tell us about anything else you have been up to since you graduated. What are your plans for the future?

Outside of working, I’ve been exploring and getting used to life in a new city – which is easier said than done with the current restrictions. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the months ahead, so I’m just trying to take each day as it comes!

George's best of Leeds

Favourite place to eat in Leeds:

My Thai is great for a meal, and you can’t go wrong with a slice of Belgrave Pizza.

Best lunch spot on/near campus:

Bakery 164

Best place to study on campus:

Laidlaw

Favourite lecture theatre:

The Medical Lecture Theatre in Worlsey Building (very original, I know).

Your favourite building on campus:

Parkinson - very grand, and the steps are a prime people watching spot (with a Bakery 164 in-hand).

Favourite Yorkshire / Leeds phrase:

I can’t single out a phrase, but most things sound better in a Yorkshire accent.

Best music / bar / club / night in Leeds:

Wire would be my favourite club, but favourite night is definitely Cosmic Slop, run by MAP Charity.

Favourite place you visited in Yorkshire:

Ilkley - Betty’s, The Cow and Calf, and great walks.