Student Spotlight

Staying in the swing of things: Dental school edition

Dental school can be busy. Honestly, busy might be an understatement. How we survive that busyness, though — that’s the key. For me, that’s playing and teaching the sport I love: tennis.

As a dental student, you spend your first two years learning how to balance the many didactic courses you are enrolled in, as well as simulation clinical courses to begin your journey as a dentist. Following the completion of these two years, you transition into patient management and clinical dentistry.

For these reasons, it is all the more crucial you learn how to balance the school load, while maintaining your own mental health. I was fortunate to be able to play a sport at my undergraduate university. At the University of Toledo, I played four years of varsity tennis and even captained the team my junior and senior years. For many years now, tennis has been the one thing I can do without thinking. As a dental student, this skill of mine has only become more valuable. Not only can I go out after a long day at school and get some exercise, I can let my mind loose from all the subjects I’ve been juggling at school. 

Recently, I’ve made it a priority in my life to teach the sport I love to others. While this is one more thing I need to plan out in my week, it is 100-fold worth it. Not only do I get to be on court and take my mind off my day at school, but I get to pass on the sport that has made me the person I am. Tennis has taught me many lessons: how to push through adversity, how to keep calm under pressure and even how to work well on a team — all skills I have found useful as a dental student.

Teaching tennis gives me an outlet to leave the stresses of dental school behind, as well as a way to spread the sport I love. The joy the little girl I’ve been teaching experiences when she breaks her record on a drill lights up my face every time. Or when another student in a summer tennis camp runs up to their mom beaming, “Coach taught me a new shot today!” It’s moments like these that center me and melt all the stresses of the school day.

When I’m on the court, I can focus on what’s really important in life. Will the bad review I received on my prep in simulation clinic that morning matter in a month? Will the disagreement with a clinic faculty member matter next week? It’s likely they won’t, but time and time again, I find myself dwelling on these tiny moments. Being on the tennis court lets me hit the reset button on my day and allows me to receive all the good that is happening to me.

Dentistry is a demanding profession. Having an outside interest as an outlet can be vital to your mental health. Of course, prioritize the work you need to get done for school, but don’t let it consume you. I would strongly recommend that even as a dental student, you take time for those sports and hobbies you enjoy. You’ll find that even with the challenging schedule of a dental student, having those moments to turn off the busyness will prove invaluable. While at first you may see an extracurricular as one more thing to swing, with time, it may prove as one of the most rewarding. 

~Colleen O’Brien, Detroit Mercy ‘22

Colleen O'Brien

Colleen O’Brien was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is currently a third-year dental student at the University Of Detroit Mercy School Of Dentistry. She completed her bachelor’s degree from the University of Toledo in biology. When not at school, she enjoys playing tennis, baking and spending time with family.

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