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Transitioning from Water Polo to Dentistry

Today, we are joined by EYP community member and former Water Polo athlete turned Dentist, Dr. Adrian Cummins, for an interview about how he learned to embrace his pace during his life as an athlete and his transition to dentistry. In our interview with Dr. Cummins, we touch on how he overcame the comparison game and stayed focused on his unique journey from swimming, to waterpolo to opening his own practice.

How did you get into Water Polo? Did you always know you wanted to play for your country/professionally?

I was swimming before I remember learning how, there are tons of photos of me at the beach as a toddler and my mum says it’s close whether I swam or walked first. There were always other sports in the mix, but swimming was my daily. I first swam for Barbados at the age-group level when I was 11 and that continued up to age 17. Most summers during the offseason, there was a dip in attendance between summer camps, family vacations, etc, so our swim coach started throwing a ball in the pool at the end of practice to keep us excited about showing up. The water polo players were what seemed like giants who would show up right when swim practice was ending. I was always intrigued and intimidated by what was going on with the older kids in the deep end, but one day one of the senior players saw us throwing the ball and invited us to join their practices. This was around age 12 for me, and it was love at first sight. I made the national team at 14 and got to travel with the grown-ups to the Caribbean Championships in Aruba, and by the time I left for college, I considered competitive swimming to be secondary and water polo to be my primary sport. I did not know professional water polo existed for someone like me as most of what I saw on bootleg tapes or DVDs were Europeans, but as my college career progressed and I began connecting with more players from Europe and other regions of the world, I thought if I could at least find an opportunity to be on the same stage, there would be a chance I could have a professional career.

Was your journey linear?

In hindsight, my journey was far from linear. Now that I have been fortunate enough to play and coach in multiple countries, most of the best players I have met started at age 4 or 5 and developed more of a water polo foundation along with their swimming ability. From there, you join a club (e.g. in the US). If you happen to be in an area with strong school teams, you have that as well but primarily, you develop via the club system, attend developmental camps, and get on the radar for collegiate coaches, and there is a system comparable to other sports like basketball or football where everyone seemingly knows each other, and you get opportunities based on those connections. I think I was in the right place at the right time on several occasions. I was surrounded by teammates who were as driven to develop in an “unknown” sport as I was, and the connections that I did make outside of Barbados have turned into lifelong connections I consider invaluable not just in my athletic career but in my life.

Did the “comparison game” ever hinder your journey? If so, how did you overcome that? If not, what allowed you to stay focused on your path?

I definitely found myself playing the comparison game at different stages. In some instances, it led to imposter syndrome, where I did not think I had the resume of some of the others I was training with or competing against. There were opportunities to challenge myself even more than I already had where I talked myself out of taking more chances – often it was very sound reasoning such as not moving to another country without guarantees or not jeopardizing where I was without certain assurances, but in those quiet conversations with yourself, you know when you use logic to protect yourself from really diving into why you chose not to do something.
In other instances, I spent more time thinking about the next steps than the moment I was in. The latter was more of a hindrance as I certainly could and should have enjoyed the journey more, and that is a personality trait that transcends sport for me, and that I am constantly working on.

When and what made you decide to become a dentist?

I always knew that the only “real” job for me was becoming a dentist. My mother has always been my biggest role model, and being a dentist herself, I really got to see not just the clinical side of the profession but the impact she made on all of her patients. As much as I loved competing in sports, I also loved coaching and seeing players set goals, achieve those goals, and oftentimes surprise themselves when they look back on the journey. In dentistry, I get to challenge myself to be better from moment to moment, but I also get to participate in what can be a transformative experience for so many patients. You get the gratification of seeing where someone starts, seeing their beliefs/habits change along the way, and then finally, at the end, you truly see how confidence and self-esteem have been impacted for the better. I hope that everyone feels some version of what I feel in whatever their profession, but from an early age, that is what becoming a dentist meant to me, and I never really wavered from that path.

What was the transition like from sports to dentistry?

I cannot imagine surviving dental school or private practice without the background I have in sports – so much so that when hiring or building my team, if an applicant has a history of sports participation I find it easier to incorporate them into the office. The tasks and goals changed for me in dentistry but the principles and core beliefs instilled at an early age and through my playing career remain the same. Dentistry is about teamwork, commitment to excellence, consistency, accountability, communication, and mindfulness. These can/should all be learned along the way but I firmly believe that the foundation set early in sports makes the transition easier. In sports, you learn that your best effort does not always produce the desired outcome, that lack of preparation is difficult to overcome, and that success means different things to everyone, so it is important to focus on what you can control.

You own a dental practice. You’ve talked about how it’s been quite the process. Did you encounter any obstacles on your way to opening your own practice? How did you stay the course?

The actual creation of the business, formulation of a business plan, and securing financing was a matter of systematically following steps. I opened my practice at the end of July 2019. At the time, I was leaving an office I had no ownership in but was doing quite well financially, so knowing I was entering a situation of little or no pay was concerning. I made what I thought were airtight plans, calculated how many months it should take to become profitable, and approached it the way I approach anything else. In March 2020, COVID-19 became a reality for us all, and from the standpoint of a practice owner, I had grave concerns about the practice surviving regardless of any effort I put in. The key to staying the course was pivoting and having a strong support system in my wife. I reduced hours in my practice, and while I never thought I would again, I took a part-time job as an associate and also worked temp jobs wherever I could as a locum. This allowed me to retain the staff at my office with whatever income the business generated while supplementing my income from the associate job, which allowed me to take care of my share of the responsibilities at home. It was a long two years, but in 2022, I returned to being in my office full-time, and my patients remained very loyal while also referring friends, family, and coworkers. We were able to maintain our calling card of high quality and customer service, and things have continued to grow exponentially from there. There are seemingly constant obstacles in the form of staffing in a post-COVID world and ever-increasing overhead costs, but those are par for the course, and all we can do is be dynamic in our approach to problem-solving.

What does embrace your pace mean to you?

Embrace your pace means being honest enough with myself to recognize where I am and where I want to go and understanding that every path won’t be linear. As long as I can keep those in mind, everything else is part of the journey, and the journey is meant to be enjoyed. I think there is a way to learn from others without getting caught up in the comparison game, and that is a key way to remain open-minded without losing focus. The last thing I want to do is switch my pace to match someone running a totally different race.

Interview on February 1st, 2024, with Dr. Adrian Cummins.

Dr. Adrian Cummins strives to work with each and every patient to provide the best possible dental care in the area, making him your top dentist in Silver Spring and surrounding towns. With his experience and history utilizing the latest and greatest methods in dental technology, he’s able to work together with each patient to create the best treatment plan for their smile”.

Visit Cummins Dental Group at https://smiledmv.com/

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