Being an athlete in college allows students to pursue their passion in a sport at a competitive level while attending school. Other than playing for the love of the game, student athletes learn valuable skills, including teamwork, discipline and time management. Additionally, athletes build long-term relationships in which coaches become mentors and teammates become lifelong friends.
However, being a college athlete at the varsity level can be tough, and excelling academically and athletically requires excellent time-management skills. Athletes dedicate a significant amount of time to practice, physical therapy, games, tournaments and travel on top of a rigorous academic workload. Fulfilling premed course requirements and pursuing medical opportunities can be challenging on top of an already demanding schedule.
After mentoring and speaking to several premed athletes, I compiled common tips premed athletes have utilized to excel and successfully balance medical interests and athletic passions.
Time Management and Planning Tips for Premed Athletes
Learn to manage your time and always be productive. Many athletes plan their weekly schedule based on classes and sport commitments. To be more efficient with their time, they also schedule when they socialize, eat and study.
Schedule and strategize courses. Premed athletes should create a four-year plan with their academic advisers, ensuring that they will fulfill their major, graduation and premed requirements in preparation for medical school. When possible, premed athletes may optimize their curriculum to schedule less rigorous courses during their athletic seasons, when they expect to be busier.
Use summers and off-season time. Premed athletes may take summer courses to lessen their course load during the school year. They can also increase their commitment in research, community service and student organizations during off-season semesters and summers.
Relay sport schedules to professors, student organization members and extracurricular activity managers. Communicate with professors about potential class, midterm and final exam conflicts so you can make the necessary accommodations. Similarly, be transparent about your athletic schedule with those involved in your other extracurricular activities.
Create a support group of friends in classes. Find classmates who can share lecture notes in case you are away for a game. Form study groups to work on assignments and test prep together.
Ask older athletes for advice. Older teammates are like older siblings, and they can be a treasure trove of information and advice. For example, they can suggest courses to take and professors to work with.
Tips for Premed Athletes’ Overall Well-Being
Enjoy being both an athlete and a premed. Premed athletes love their sport and also love science. Relish excelling in both arenas.
Choose classes that interest you and explore extracurricular activities: While there may be popular classes athletes take, pursue academic interests such as an advanced nonscience course. Even during the season, premed athletes find time to volunteer some weekends or evenings, search for research positions and shadow doctors.
Make sure you have enough time for self-care: Aside from sports and academics, make time for adequate sleep, healthy meals and fun with friends.
Swimming While Majoring in Biology
Anna Dickinson, a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, was a varsity swimmer for the University of Virginia. Before the start of each semester, the biology major looked at her class and swim schedules and planned exactly when she would study, go to class, swim and conduct lab research.
“I enjoyed working hard and I loved the grind,” she says. “I took pride in learning in the classes, then working hard in the pool and then advancing science in my research lab.”
Dickinson says she loved the fact that she met with her professors at the beginning of the semester to discuss sport conflicts with classes and exams, because that helped her get to know her professors throughout college. She even took two semesters of organic chemistry over the summer.
“Recognize that you will make mistakes and shift how you approach different challenges,” she advises. “In swim, my coach would tell me to change my stroke, and then I would analyze my mistakes and make small changes to my technique. Similarly, I learned how to balance my time by making mistakes. I did not do well on my first biology exam. I felt terrible, but then I met with my professor to analyze how I could do better to study for my exams. That was when I realized that I had to consistently set aside time daily to study the course material. I would review notes before I went to bed and read lecture materials during my bus ride to meets.”
Majoring in Psychology While Playing Volleyball
Jordan Cornwell, a med student at Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in California, was a varsity volleyball player at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where she embraced her time as both an athlete and a premed.
“Your sport is an activity that you are passionate about,” she says. “Embrace it as part of your premed journey, rather than thinking about it as inhibiting your journey to become a doctor.”
Cornwell found time to shadow physicians at least a few times each semester throughout college, and shadowing was her introduction to several fields of medicine. Some of her favorite courses in college were not premed requirements. Taking classes like “Health and Illness” and “Race and Gender in American Film” changed her perspective on medicine and led her to major in psychology with a minor in anthropology.
Cornwell also became efficient in her time management as a premed athlete, composing daily and weekly schedules. She advises aspiring premeds to “get good at focusing and being able to study anywhere. Take advantage of long bus rides and study in the hotel lobby before games, whether it’s watching a class video, reviewing flashcards or reading your textbook.”
Reflecting on her time as a premed athlete, Cornwell advises future premed athletes: “It’s okay if you don’t line up (with) your friends’, teammates’ or other premeds’ timelines. Don’t feel pressure if other premeds are volunteering but you do not have enough time to volunteer because of your rigorous sports schedule. Remember, everyone’s path towards becoming a doctor is unique.”
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