How College Athletics Prepared Me for Medical School

November 28, 2017 Alexandria Chrumka

shutterstock_179654165.jpgBeing a member of the rowing team at Stanford is a grueling undertaking ripe with some great life lessons. I developed the qualities of altruism, prioritization and perseverance, but it was actually when I was injured that these qualities got hammered home.

Just before junior year of college I required hip surgery. This meant spending the next ten months recovering and being solely a supporting member of the team. Still, this included two team practices a day, one daily workout on my own, and three to five physical therapy sessions a week. While some may think it was crazy that I decided to attend every team practice even though I was unable to participate, to me it was a way to show the team and my coach that the team came first. The new freshman class needed a driver to get them to the boathouse every morning at 5am, so I gladly volunteered in order to bond with my new teammates. Whenever my coach needed someone to time race pieces, I was her girl. As other team members rotated through the spin bike injury squad, I gladly led the pack. I knew the team came first, and would do whatever I could to support that idea. This altruistic mindset is what makes medical school worthwhile to me. I’ll deal with the first two years of rigorous studying without almost any patient contact because I know I’m not learning this stuff so I can impress people with my intelligence or win at trivia night. I’m going through this hell so that at the end of it all I can do everything possible to help my future patients.

Because my injury made for quite a hectic schedule, I learned to prioritize two things; medicine and athletics. With every decision I would ask myself, “Will this help me become a great doctor?” or “Will this help me succeed as a rower?” If the answer was no to both of those questions, then it didn’t happen. This meant being asleep by 9pm each night, choosing to opt out of my free meal plan for a healthier and less time consuming option, and leaving my sorority because it wasn’t helping me achieve my goals. Since medical school has started, my priorities remain similar, however the lack of structured rowing practice has opened up my schedule a surprising amount. Each day is ruled by studying, with working out as a stress reliever. Sleep remains incredibly important, and my social life definitely takes a back seat, but as long as I don’t waste too much time on social media or binge watching the latest TV series, I manage to still have a great relationship with my family, classmates, and lifelong friends. It is all about finding the balance.

During junior year I had many setbacks, and was even told I may need an additional surgery. But I was unrelenting in my pursuit to rejoin the racing squad by spring. That year my four-person boat placed second at the NCAA Championships, a first for Stanford. This hardly needs explanation as to how it applies to medical school. It is common knowledge that medical school is no easy feat. As I face the daily course load, exams every six weeks, and inevitable burn out, I regularly enter my athlete determination mindset to carry me through.

While my elite rowing career may be over, the many lessons it has taught me hold true. My altruism, prioritization, and perseverance allow me to tackle medical school and continue toward my goal of becoming an incredible surgeon.

Image Credit: John Kropewnicki/Shutterstock

About the Author

Medical Student

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