VSM: I have a couple of relatives who are physicians—one of them was my pediatrician growing up—so I was always impressed by and attracted to medicine. I also really enjoyed learning about the biology of the human body in high school and college, and so I thought medicine would be a good fit for me.
Explore This IssueApril 2019
Initially, I thought I would go into sports medicine (a lot of former athletes do), but I didn’t really enjoy the orthopedic surgery rotation very much. But I do really like surgery. At the time I attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, the otolaryngology rotation was mandatory, and I really loved it—I liked the people, the area of the body we focused on, treating patients both medically and surgically, and of all ages, performing a variety of procedures, big and small, and seeing a variety of complaints. That rotation was behind my decision to pursue the otolaryngology field. The subspecialty I chose is laryngology, although I still do see some patients for general otolaryngology work.
ENTtoday: Have any of the lessons you learned from competitive swimming been helpful in your otolaryngology practice?
VSM: For work and for life in general, participation in sports gives you a lot of important skills, including discipline and time management. When you compete, you put in a lot of work and challenge yourself to reach higher goals in training, and, if you’ve worked hard, you’ll see the results. I really enjoyed challenging myself in swim practice and then seeing if I could still reach those goals in competition. You also learn to deal with successes and disappointments. You also learn perseverance—eventually you’ll get the results you want, but there will be bumps in the road getting there.
I also enjoyed the social aspect of swimming. People tend to think of swimming as an individual sport, but really, you train and race alongside other people, you constantly work in cooperation with coaches and trainers, and you travel as a team. In the same way, physicians and other medical personnel support and work in partnership with each other, using their individual skills. You’re never by yourself in medicine, and your successes are shared with the team.
Amy E. Hamaker is a freelance medical writer based in California.