Some people will tell you that playing a division I sport while being premed is nearly impossible. They’ll say the intensity of collegiate athletics can take you away from having a successful medical career. I disagree.
Although being a premed student-athlete can be demanding, to say it is impossible would be far from the truth. I am a living example of someone who was recently accepted into medical school after playing four years of Division I basketball.
To say it is easy would also be foolish. Balancing these two rigorous tasks together can be quite difficult and will challenge you in all aspects of life—physically, emotionally, and mentally. However, with the following tips, life can become more tolerable, and your dreams of becoming a physician can one day turn into a reality.
Here are 6 tips to keep in mind as a premed collegiate athlete:
- Have Confidence in Yourself
- Carefully Manage Your Time
- Utilize Available Resources
- Prioritize Self-Care & Mental Health
- Accept the Inevitable Curveballs
- Embrace the Grind
Although these tips are focused on collegiate athletes pursuing medicine, many of these tips can be applied to balancing other passions outside of medicine as a premed. With this in mind, let’s dive into the list.
1 | Have Confidence in Yourself
Tip number one is to maintain confidence. Many people will try to sway you and convince you of the challenges your chosen pathway holds. They may steer you away because they haven’t seen it done before with their own eyes. Don’t allow their opinions to guide your decisions.
During my freshman year, I walked into my advising session and left feeling like I had no chance of becoming a physician. I was told that as a collegiate athlete, I wouldn’t have the time to balance this intense pathway. They said I should choose a different major. It was difficult to listen to someone who didn’t know me talk about what I should and shouldn’t do. However, I didn’t allow this person to choose my destiny.
I took it upon myself to do research and find ways to balance doing both. I trusted myself by quieting the outside noise and reminding myself of my own abilities. This confidence is what pushed me to graduate early and obtain an MBA during my senior year.
There will always be people in your life who will bring you down. You must remind yourself of your abilities and purpose in life. If pursuing medicine is truly something you are passionate about, don’t let anyone in your circle, not even your parents, convince you otherwise. Having confidence in this decision and sticking with it, even during moments of adversity, will help you stay the course and, ultimately, help you achieve your goals.
2 | Carefully Manage Your Time
Tip number two is to manage your time wisely. As a collegiate athlete but more specifically, a premed collegiate athlete, time is your most valuable asset. You can either use it wisely or procrastinate until failure.
Procrastination was not an option for me. Time blocking allowed me to prioritize my tasks and set boundaries for important events in my life. Each block of time was dedicated to accomplishing a specific task. This is how a typical day in my life would look like through time blocking.
7-8 am — Breakfast/Treatment
8-1:30 pm — Weights/Film/Practice/Shower
1:30-8 pm — Lunch/Class
8-10 pm —Study
10-11 pm — Me Time/Night Routine
This method helped me organize my life and gave me specific chunks of time to dedicate to each task. The key to time blocking is prioritizing your task list in advance; for me, this organization and weekly review occurred on Sundays, my reset days. It is equally as important to set cut-off times and boundaries for yourself.
Notice how I blocked off 10-11 pm for “me time” instead of attending some kind of social gathering. Although going to parties might have been more fun, I knew I would have to sacrifice some of my social life to keep my sanity. Again, this is something that may look different for each person. For me, maintaining high performance in basketball and getting good grades were my top two priorities in college. For some, it may be attending events and making social connections.
To increase my knowledge of topics without spending too much time studying, I employed various active learning strategies. Instead of passively reading textbooks, I relied heavily on watching videos and doing practice questions/Anki. These strategies allowed me to study smarter, not harder, as they say, and I hope to take these lessons with me into my first year of medical school.
Lastly, as athletes, we aren’t exempt from the traditional premed extracurriculars. It is vital to continue to engage in clinical, volunteer, research, and leadership hours. But how is one supposed to do this while maintaining academics and athletics?
For me, I used my off-season to gain these hours. The earlier you start, the better! I started working as a nursing aide during my sophomore year and could only pick up one or two eight-hour shifts during the week. But since I started working my sophomore year, by the time I was a senior, I had accumulated over 500 clinical hours. Engaging in these activities early will help you get the exposure and experience needed to get accepted into medical school.
3 | Utilize Available Resources
Tip number three is to use your resources. How many times have you heard the quote, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” This quote is applicable in almost every setting.
Do your best to connect with fellow athletes and premed upperclassmen. Throughout my collegiate career, I found people who were doing what I wanted to do and used them as mentors. Although it is very difficult to find athletes pursuing medicine, there is a small community of us that you can connect with through various social media outlets, message boards, school events, etc.
Once you find your community, it makes it easier to ask questions and find beneficial resources. These people can also connect you with on-campus organizations you are passionate about, which can be applicable in your medical school application.
Lastly, as a student-athlete, it is vital to properly communicate with your professors. Consider them as a resource, and show them you care by being proactive. This can be done by communicating during office hours about missed class times or assignments. Your professors will help you find alternative solutions that work best for you in these instances. Most of the time, your professors want you to succeed and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure your success off the court.
4 | Prioritize Self-Care and Mental Health
Tip number four is to prioritize yourself. A career in medicine is often compared to a marathon, not a sprint. So, as we strive to be our very best selves and achieve what’s difficult, it’s not uncommon to simultaneously experience burnout. Hustling to make our dreams come true is a highlight, but the effort to do so can take its toll. This is why prioritizing self-care and your mental health is crucial in supporting and setting yourself up for the long journey ahead.
I am guilty of getting caught in the rat race, and sometimes, it proved to be beneficial, but oftentimes, it left me feeling uneasy and unmotivated. Here are some things I did throughout my collegiate career that kept me sane and happy.
I took at least one day off a week to recharge. This didn’t have to be the same day each week, it just had to be one day. This day would be for laundry, meal prepping, and other mundane tasks that took absolutely no brain power. Doing this weekly allowed me to relax and prep myself for a successful week ahead.
Piggybacking off the first tip, I tried to do something each day that brought me pleasure. Oftentimes, it was drinking coffee while reading a few pages of a new book or practicing my skincare routine. But for others, this could look different, such as going for a walk in the park or cooking new foods. Do what brings a smile to your face every single day, even if it seems small at the moment. I promise these small wins will become a habit and, ultimately, keep your mental health in great shape.
Additionally, during these times, I relied on my faith to help me overcome whatever difficulties I was facing. Whatever you may believe in, take some time to quiet your mind and connect with something greater than yourself. Yoga and meditation are also great practices that help to quiet your mind.
Lastly, spend time with people outside of sports and medicine. It’s often easy to find a community in these activities, but sometimes, it is nice to get a different perspective on life. It allows you to grow as a person and understand people who have different interests and come from different cultures and backgrounds.
5 | Accept the Inevitable Curve Balls
Tip number five is to be flexible. Napoleon Hill once said, “every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak, carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
I absolutely love this quote because it showcases adversity in a positive light. Throughout my collegiate career, I had many obstacles, including being injured more than five times. As a collegiate athlete, I never thought I would be injured because it’s not something we think about in college. We think about breaking records, winning championships, and excelling as a team.
During these points of my life, I didn’t allow myself to be pessimistic or defeated. I used my situation as a learning opportunity. Rather than physically being on the court, I learned from watching others. I also leaned into my academics and found organizations that I was passionate about to distract myself from the reality of my situation.
Life is full of these adverse moments. They will come whether it’s in your sport or in your personal life. The key is how you react, which will truly define your situation. You can either let this adversity define you, or you can change your attitude about your situation, which can change your reality. Being prepared for change by having flexible and adaptable traits can allow you to overcome whatever conflict comes your way.
6 | Embrace the Grind
Tip number six is to embrace the grind. Treating your studies like you approach your sport can prove to be beneficial. It’s the same daily grind where you have to stay the course and not get behind, or you’ll struggle. Long study periods can be equally draining as physically intense practices are. The skills you learn in your sport can be applied intellectually.
Pushing yourself to become more comfortable being uncomfortable is a major asset to your medical education and career, as well as all aspects of your life.
Embracing the grind means you continue to push forward despite facing adversity. Constantly reminding yourself what your purpose is and why you are doing what you are doing is beneficial. For me, having a gratitude journal helps me stay grounded and enjoy life’s small moments.
My gratitude journal allows me to live in the moment without getting anxious about future plans. This helps me stay optimistic about the future and keeps me pushing for my goals. Whatever you choose to keep you grounded, take time for yourself to reflect and be appreciative of how far you have come.
Med School Insiders is passionate about sharing more than study strategies. Our blog and YouTube channel are filled with wellness and lifestyle advice to help you live a happy, healthy, and successful life.
This article was written by Nehaa Sohail.
Nehaa Sohail graduated from Utah Valley University magna cum laude with a B.S. in Biology and an MBA with an emphasis in management. She is also the first Pakistani Division I women’s basketball player in NCAA history where she competed for the Utah Valley University women’s basketball program for four years. Along with her numerous basketball awards including All-WAC honors, she managed to maintain high academic standing leading to multiple medical school acceptances. She starts her first year of medical school in 2023 and wants her story to inspire the next generation of athletes to follow heir dreams of pursuing medicine. Outside of basketball and medicine, she enjoys reading, traveling, trying new cuisines, and engaging in thrill-seeking activities.