A Former Collegiate Athlete’s Perspective on Dental School - Eric Ress (UConn '20, District One Wellness Co-Chair)
Before I started dental school, my life revolved around swimming – I swam growing up and then also at Indiana University. I had never really experienced school without having to worry about swim practice, so dental school as a “swammer” would be a completely new experience. Although I didn’t end my career on the terms I would have liked, I did come away with many valuable experiences. My time as a collegiate swimmer taught me skills that I have been able to apply both in and out of school. In addition to sharing my experience with collegiate athletics, I asked some of my classmates to share what they took away from their respective sports.
The first big skill I developed in college was time management. The transition from high school to undergrad was easier by being forced into a regimented schedule. I found myself making use of any free time to work ahead or participate in other extracurricular activities. Whether it was studying while traveling to meets or volunteering on weekends, my free time was spent working towards personal goals. Time management in dental school is an absolute necessity. Although I no longer spend 20+ hours a week in a pool, the volume of class and school-related work requires me to manage my time wisely or risk falling behind.
In addition to managing your time, developing good habits and routines as an athlete can help develop discipline. According to my classmate Ryane Staples, a former football player at Colgate University, “When you play a Division I sport, it's a full-time job. When you add in the academics that you have to handle at the same time, it's similar to having a 60-hour per week job. To be good at both, you have to be able to manage your time well, and you have to develop good habits and routines. The same goes with being a good student in dental school - habits and routines can drive performance”. In addition, developing good habits and routines can help develop a sense of balance. Between quizzes, exam periods and board preparation, it is obvious that the majority of your time will be spent on academics. This being said, if you establish good routines where you take time for yourself, you will often see big dividends especially when it comes to productivity and overall wellness.
One of my fellow classmates, Jessica Rudman, also swam in college at Trinity College. One of the biggest things she took away from swimming was becoming an active leader. Although swimming is an individual sport, as part of a team it is important to lead by example. She said that, “How you react to a practice, competition or team decision can affect how your teammates will react and perform.” To be a leader, you do not have to have a formal title, and leading by example can go a long way. I see this in some of my classmates who are able to have a positive outlook even when school seems unmanageable.
Navigating through dental school alone is a near impossible feat. Relying on classmates and a support system can make an extremely difficult time easier. Sam Roh, a rising second year, was on the fencing team at Duke University. He said that fencing is both an individual and team sport, and that it taught him the importance of collaboration, teamwork, and camaraderie. He explained that his success depended on his teams and vice versa. Collaborating with classmates is one of the easiest ways to succeed in school. Everyone studies in a slightly different way, but even those who study well alone can benefit from a strong social support system from classmates and friends.
Although our athletic careers are long behind us, the experiences we gained from our time in college have already helped me and many of my classmates during our first year of dental school. Obviously, collegiate athletics are not the only way to learn these valuable skills, and anyone would benefit from having them. Whether its high school sports, music, art, or any variety of extracurricular activities, applying skills from our non-academic life can make dental school more manageable.