For one inspirational De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate, last week’s graduation ceremony represented so much more than a qualification on a piece of paper.
When Simon Britten’s wife died suddenly whilst on holiday, his Medical Law and Ethics LLM Master’s degree became of secondary importance to taking care of his family.
Left as a single parent to two teenage stepdaughters, Simon decided to take a year off from studying to gather his thoughts and take care of Elinor and Bella.
But 12 months later he was able to resume his distance-learning course with the help of supportive DMU staff and, after struggling at first, his marks steadily improved and he graduated last Thursday with a distinction.
“I see my degree as a tribute to my wife Helen and also to those who have been so supportive subsequently,” he said.
“I was extremely proud to graduate and I really enjoyed the whole day.”
“DMU were very supportive throughout my degree and I’ll always remember that and really appreciate it. When my wife died suddenly I had to sit down with my tutors and explain what had happened and they were just brilliant, they went totally above and beyond for me.”
As a successful consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Simon has been no stranger to taking exams throughout his career, but after the shock of his wife’s death he found it difficult to concentrate when he returned to his LLM.
He explained: “I’ve taken exams all my life and been fortunate to be good at them, but when I started back I had a lot on my plate and I was still quite shell-shocked from what had happened – I found it really hard.
“I’d sit down to study and not be able to settle, and that went on for about 12 months.”
Having handed in work of a good enough standard to remain on the course, Simon received great encouragement from DMU lecturers and his marks gradually got better. In his final year he was left needing a score of 78 or higher to secure an overall distinction classification.
When he scored a mark of 82 for his dissertation it secured him a distinction and caused him to shed a few tears.
He said: “After everything that I’d been through it was quite poignant. I was very very happy but tinged with a degree of sadness because of what happened when Helen died.
“You have to play the hand that you’re dealt. Here we are four years on and I’m much more rooted in the present and the future.
“You can still go away and do things and succeed, you can still get on in life. Of course I still miss Helen but I don’t still dwell on the past. You have to live for now and the future. You don’t forget what’s happened in the past but you do get used to a new life order.”
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Focusing on completing his degree helped Simon to cope with the loss of his wife and he says he is proud to have seen it through with such success.
“Studying for this degree really helped me look towards the future,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been very interested in and my partner Angela and her daughter Lilah have been very supportive, as have my two step-daughters. I’m very appreciative of various people around me.
“When I first came home one day and told Helen I was thinking of doing a Master’s in Medical Law and Ethics, she didn’t say it was ridiculous, she was really supportive.
“The plan was that I would study and then when I finished Helen would do an English Literature degree that she’d always wanted to do. That bit never came to fruition but I can say that I kept my side of the bargain.
“There is a huge element of personal satisfaction that I stuck it out. Even as recently as last I autumn I thought that if I just passed this I’d have stuck it out despite everything, but when my mark for the coroner’s law module came out I thought ‘hang on a minute’, and being a competitive person I suddenly thought ‘I have to turn this into a distinction’.
“That gave me the drive and focus back again that I didn’t have two years ago when I was struggling.”
Simon, who was born in Nottingham, now works as a Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon in Leeds. He says the knowledge he has gained from DMU will be of huge benefit to his profession.
“This degree will be extremely useful in my medicolegal work as an orthopaedic surgeon. One of the big modules I did was on expert evidence and one was on clinical negligence and they have both been a huge help for me to understand more.
“I also now understand more about giving evidence as an expert. Having done this degree I understand much more about what the courts are after. On the NHS side, knowing more about things like consent and data protection are very useful to me in my day-to-day work.”
But the real value of the degree is in how it has given him a renewed focus and an ability to move forward.
“After everything that has happened, I’m so proud to have graduated with this degree,” he said.
Posted on Monday 23rd July 2018