Four Swimmers Set Sights On Medical School

Oct. 22, 2014

DENTON - When the North Texas swimming and diving team was recognized as having the second highest GPA among all such programs in the nation last fall, it was clear that the squad could do much more than simply pull its weight in the classroom. Four swimmers in particular hope that the academic success that made such an award possible will set the stage for potential careers in medicine.

Seniors Sarah Manning, Krista Rossum and Chloe Tong, along with junior Michelle Balcaen, are swimmers on this year's roster that are enrolled in UNT's Pre-Medical Program. The curriculum allows students to major in whatever they choose as long as they complete the pre-med prerequisite courses required by medical schools around the country. Balcaen, Manning and Tong each major in biology while Rossum majors in biochemistry.

While the four share similar career goals, each has a different reason for wanting to attend medical school. For Manning, a career in medicine is something that she has had in mind for most of her life.

"It's just something that I've always wanted to do," she said. "As a kid I would put bandaids on my granddad and he would joke around by calling me `Doctor Sarah.'"

In similar fashion, Rossum credits a love of science and a nurse of a mother to her appeal in a medical career, while Balcaen and Tong took interest in the career path later in life.

Like that of any student athlete, the schedule is rigorous and the group's days are planned from sunrise to sunset: wake at five, practice for two or three hours, shower, go to class, find time to study, go to the second practice of the day, go to a lab, knock out some homework, and sleep.

"Sometimes I don't even sit down because I'm up and running around," Tong said. "With everything that goes on I have to remind myself to eat."

Even with the difficulty, the group gets by with the help of each other.

"What I really like about being on the swim team is there are a ton of people here that are biology majors and in years past there have been a number of biology majors," Rossum said. "It's just nice to have a group of people to go to class with or study with or figure things out with."

Rossum, in addition to success in the pool, has quite a notable resume out of it as well. Last year she was awarded the Conference USA Scholar Athlete Award, an honor given to only one athlete from each sport in the conference who represents athletic and academic achievement as well as service. In addition, her 3.929 GPA earned her a spot on the conference's all-academic team, an honor bestowed to only six swimmers and divers annually.

The schedule is so strenuous that most of the girls intend on taking a year off following graduation. But for now they must turn their attention to medical school preparation and the application process.

For these aspiring healthcare professionals, that preparation means finding time for volunteer hours and studying for the dreaded Medical College Admission Test, a four hour exam that assesses critical thinking and problem solving skills in subjects like physical sciences, verbal reasoning and biological sciences.

While they have ideas about the individual areas that they hope to work in, ultimately they are unsure of where the medical path may take them. For Balcaen, this is what intrigued her to such a career in the first place.

"I wasn't really interested in medicine until I saw that there's so much that you can go into," she said. "Even if I get to med school without knowing what to get into, there are so many different avenues I can take."

Overall, the group is a perfect illustration of the academically focused mindset that has encompassed the team since head coach Brendon Bray stepped in last season. This focus is evident as all but two of the 30 women on last year's squad were named to the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll with a GPA of at least 3.0.

"I really want to encourage them to make an impact in healthcare and medicine," Bray said. "I will do anything I can to encourage them and help them in their paths."

As applications, personal statements and entrance exams inch closer by the day, perhaps Tong sums it up best.

"Some days it's a struggle and I just want to break down," she said. "But I tell myself that if we can get through this, we can do anything."



North Texas Mean Green