Dust always hangs in the air—it’s Arizona.
But on softball night, the clouds of dust kicked up by runners sprinting toward first base takes on an almost ethereal glow.
Yes, it could be just the field lights reflecting off the Coccidioides immitis-laden particles. But I like to think of the dust as a little accoutrement to an always mystical night when 10 to 12 medical students take an hour-long study break to play softball.
According to our academic calendars, we second-year medical students shouldn’t have time for school yard games.
Monday through Friday, for three to seven hours per day, we sit in the same auditorium with about 250 of our future colleagues and absorb the lecture material. When not in class, we are expected to digest the day’s new knowledge, while recalling information studied as early as yesterday or details learned two years ago.
On top of all of this, we should be conditioning ourselves to pass the eight-hour long board exams that we’ll take at the end of the school year. If we survive the second-year licensing-exam gauntlet, we may advance one year closer to becoming real-life physicians.
Between studying for school and prepping for board exams, a medical student may have difficulty finding the time for anything other than being a medical student.
Somehow—whether it is for our sanity, for our friendships, for our procrastinating tendencies—my intramural softball teammates and I make the time.
“You have to keep your life balanced,” says Richard J. Van Tienderen, OMS II, an intramural softball player at the Midwestern University/Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in Glendale. “If I studied all of the time, I’d go crazy.”
When I emerged from the first-year exam season known as “Black January,” I recognized my incessant studying and school-centric lifestyle were taking a toll.
My life lacked balance: I slept when I could, ate what I could, and moved as necessary. If you didn’t go to class or study on the library’s third floor, I probably didn’t know you.
But one winter day, as I made my daily trek to the library in the desert heat, a classmate asked if I wanted to join his softball team.
“It’s just intramurals,” he said as I tried to remember the last time I actually picked up a softball. “It’s lower division.”
I’ve never been one for team sports and athletics. I cling to my schoolwork like a safety blanket and take pride in my English degree from the all-female Wellesley College. I’ve done yoga and jogged about the neighborhood, but ask me about sports and how to play them … people still remind me that I cannot run through second base.
The chance to hang out with my classmates in a setting other than a dimly lit lecture hall or a fluorescent-lit library, however, was too good to pass up.
And besides, strengthening my friendships and my body while giving my mind a little respite could only improve me for the better: That’s Osteopathic Medicine 101.
I never bothered to ask him, “Why me?” because I suspected it had to do with the game’s rules that called for two female players on the field. I just asked him, “When and where?” so I could show up and play ball.
Generally, medical students are perseverant, lifelong students. We sit quietly, reading books, taking notes and prioritizing schoolwork over weekend parties. There are those of us who may almost brag about our lack of sleep or how many board-exam prep questions we have yet to answer as if to prove our commitment.
We tend not to discuss what we do when we’re not studying.
But one of the goals of an osteopathic physician is to find and promote health: the dynamic balance of mind, body, and spirit.
And no matter how much we may want to deny this, we can’t always be concentrating.
Elizabeth Lehto, OMS II, and Shireen Rabiei, OMS II, play pingpong like the amateurs that they are, but the Californians laugh as they whack the plastic ball into the ceiling lights. They are all giggles when they smash the ball across the community game room, narrowly missing their spectators.
Mark McPherson, OMS II, even finds his study timeouts to be essential learning tools.
“Breaks are absolutely necessary,” says McPherson, who likes to work up a sweat at the gym when not studying. “My studies tend to be more effective if I have a time frame to work with.”
The Big Blue Veins
Back at the softball sandlot with those glowing dust clouds, I step into the batter’s box.
With my hair in a high ponytail, my white visor and my personalized royal-blue team shirt stamped with the number 24, I stare down the pitcher. No longer the first-year female softball rookie, I’m now a second-year veteran player for the Big Blue Veins.
Not much has changed since last year. I’m still clueless about sports. I’m only beginning to understand how rightfield and catcher positions can be game changers. My hand-eye coordination has not improved.
But I’m a happier person than I was last year.
Intramural softball gave me the opportunity to slow down, spend time with classmates and make friends for at least an hour each week throughout the spring.
In the Big Blue Veins’ dugout, I would often find guys from the Sigma Sigma Phi osteopathic honor fraternity talking sports. I would also find some of my teammates’ significant others and their growing families, who provided me with a lifeline to the world outside of medical school.
“[Softball] is a good mental break for the students,” said Shabneez Khan, a sales strategist from San Francisco who is married to the team’s pitcher, Shamroze Khan, OMS II. “It helps students be part of something active outside of class.”
Sadly, those charmed nights on the baseball diamond when I’d join my teammates in putting down the books and picking up bats are over.
Next year, Big Blue Veins players will be scattered throughout the country, working hard and learning lots about medicine and themselves during third-year clinical rotations.
“I know I want to be some form of doctor,” says Daniel Orosco, OMS II, of Camarillo, Calif., who will return with his wife to their home state.
Like Orosco, many on the team have yet to commit to a particular medical career path.
But as medicine forever pushes us to do more than we have time for, I hope that we don’t lose sight of the important things and people in our lives.
Healthy medical students should beget healthy physicians; healthy physicians should beget healthy patients.
And for the past two years, making time for my softball study breaks has proved nothing but therapeutic.