Athletes in Medical School: What All Students Can Learn From Them

Emily Kahoud


April 05, 2019

Being an athlete during medical training is no easy feat, yet many have dared and have inspired us all with their dedication, tenacity, and ability to stand resilient in the face of the most arduous collision of intensity: mind and body. Last year, when the Kansas City Chiefs' right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the only active NFL player with a medical degree, I was about to embark on my own medical journey. I read about his experience in awe, thinking, How did this guy manage to do this? Is he super-human? Or is it sheer determination? These sorts of questions cannot be answered by just anyone.

So I turned to my colleague, Gabriela Martinez—second lieutenant in the US Air Force, president of the Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), and National Physique Committee (NPC) bodybuilder—for some insight. Gabi graduated from Boston University (BU) as a premed with a bachelor of science in human physiology. While competing in the premed pressure cooker, she was also competing as a Division I softball player, not to mention her service in the Air Force.

The Team Mentality

The rigors of being a competitive athlete were not new to her. She began playing softball when she was 9 years old and learned early on that she had a team counting on her and that she needed to show up—not just for herself, but to ensure the success of the team. That mentality carried her through high school and through the rigors of being a Division I softball catcher while climbing through the weed-out woods that is premed at an institution like BU.

Gabi recalls that her first premed advisor casually told her that most can't pull it off, meaning that being a Division I athlete while being successful enough academically to get into med school is too much for most. That advisor told her that most kids end up with barely passing grades. Gabi knew she had what it took, mentally and physically, to prove her advisor wrong. "I didn't want to settle for passing," she told me, because "med school doesn't settle for passing."

This meant that every moment that she was not training or on the field, Gabi was seizing the opportunity to advance one more step toward her ultimate goal of medical school. "Time management is key," she said of being an athlete in a competitive program. She learned back in undergrad how to harness study opportunities, no matter how small, like studying on planes, buses, and anywhere else she could grab a moment.

The Efficiency of Little Things

Critical to Gabi's success to this day is making little things efficient to save herself time in the long run. This means scheduling out the week and incorporating everything—including food shopping, food prep, travel time to the gym, and her commute to class—to make sure she accomplishes what she needs to without any lost opportunities. She has also had to mix up her learning styles, such as forcing herself to become more of an auditory learner so that when she's prepping for a bodybuilding show and needs to get extra cardio in, she can multitask and listen to lectures while on the treadmill.

It doesn't take a special person so much as a special drive.

Gabi easily trains 2 hours a day, 7 days a week during her prep season, whereas many medical students struggle to add any physical activity to their weeks. Knowing she's an athlete, her peers sometimes come to her for advice, as well as accountability. In the spirit of true athleticism, she knows exactly how to deliver the key ingredient for success: with a sense of empowerment. It doesn't take a special person so much as a special drive. Once you have that foundation, it's just a matter of tweaking it, she explained. "Why do you want to do this? What are you looking for?" she asks others. "Because when you have a good hold on your sense of 'why,' that's going to keep you sticking to it and remembering how good it feels, even when things get tough."


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