I set my alarm for 05:00 as I settle into bed anticipating an exciting day tomorrow. Six years ago, this feeling may have revolved around an in-conference baseball series against a rival team, now the feeling surrounds getting to perform orthopaedic hand surgery. I run through the surgery steps one more time before falling asleep, and now being years removed from division one college baseball, I cannot help but be grateful for all of the applicable life lessons it had taught me.
I grew up in Canada as a dual US and Canadian citizen. Instead of following the typical hockey route, I fell in love with playing baseball and managed to secure a scholarship to Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. I had always known I wanted to go to medical school, and I felt the small school environment was a good fit to accomplish my goals. The lessons I learned as a student athlete were invaluable and have carried over to my career as a physician in training.
First of all, being a student athlete taught me a lot about discipline and time management which has proved to be invaluable as a resident. I remember having to use small windows of time between a practice and lift to study for tests and quizzes. This skill taught me that no amount of free time should be wasted and that there is no minimum amount of time needed in order to be productive. This parallels my life as a surgeon where I now find myself reviewing relevant anatomy or technique guides even with only 10-15 minutes of down time between surgeries.
Another attribute that I have carried with me as a former athlete is the ability to work in a team environment. Our team at Canisius was always very close and our older players always acted as good role models and mentored the younger student-athletes. This mentorship model is something I have taken with me to residency as I now find myself having to mentor interns with orthopaedic reductions, learning the hospital and facing the challenges of being a new doctor in a major hospital. The previous experiences I have had working in an athletic team setting have allowed me to be a more effective communicator with nurses, surgical technicians and faculty. Finally, playing baseball at the collegiate level has taught me to learn from your mistakes and grow. Failures in life are inevitable and how you respond to adversity is more important than anything else. I have made mistakes as a resident, and rather than dwelling on the error, athletics has taught me to learn, adjust and get better. There are plenty of intelligent, highly accomplished surgeons in the orthopaedic field, but I think there is an edge with former athletes in understanding how to understand deal with failure.
Overall, some of the lessons I have learned as a collegiate athlete have undoubtedly given me an advantage as a physician. I love working in the orthopaedic field and I believe there are so many parallels between sports and being a part of a surgical team. I would encourage student-athletes now to take full advantage of the experience and that one day they will appreciate the life-long skills they have gained.