Laura Keates – a life in dentistry
Worcester Warriors player and 2014 World Cup winner Laura Keates talks to Dentistry Online about balancing her dental degree with rugby.
This has been a strange year, but for you especially as it impacted both rugby and your dental degree. How has it all been?
I was in my third year and had just started all of our speciality training in January. I’d had a few clinics and had just started to get into it before lockdown hit. Birmingham University has been great in terms of getting us back and we’re really lucky with the dental hospital being so new.
We are now back seeing patients and we’ve started AGPs. In terms of the position we’re in now and the current circumstances, we can’t complain. Everyone’s suffered in different ways and we’re now cracking back into it which is really good.
I’m in my fourth year now but it does feel a bit like third year given everything that went on. I’ve heard fourth year is the hardest because you have a lot of exams and all of the specialities have started.
Everyone expects you to know a little bit more about what you’re doing. Everyone’s been very good – we all just feel a bit like we haven’t got as much experience.
And in terms of rugby, how did COVID-19 impact training? Did anything change?
Initially when it was the first lockdown and they cancelled the rest of the season, we did a lot of home training. I play for Worcester Warriors and there was a lot of home workouts and trying to stay motivated.
Luckily I’d managed to borrow a bit of gym equipment off one of my friends just before we went into lockdown. It was kind of like a pre-season block but carried out as best as we could at home.
But then we were really lucky as we fall under the elite programme so we started back in August. We initially started in small groups of six for a few weeks and then we moved into slightly larger groups. They just got bigger and bigger and even when we got back to full team training, we were still in a bubble of two teams.
It was definitely challenging. The main thing is that nobody wanted to spread the virus. We all have to log any symptoms before we go to training and we also have a proper temperature scanner.
Why did you choose to get into dentistry?
I first did a degree in zoology, which is really random. I wanted to be a vet originally but I don’t think I actually did. You know when someone asks you when you’re a child – I think I just carried that on. Luckily – definitely luckily – I didn’t get in anywhere.
I had this feeling that it wasn’t what I wanted to do but I had already applied and was at the interview stage at that point. I didn’t get any offers but was always going to take a year out anyway. My mum and dad then told me I have to go to university. I randomly flicked through the book and thought Zoology sounded quite interesting.
Once I graduated, there wasn’t really anything I wanted to do with it. But rugby was starting to take off then. I started working at the sports centre at the university as a lifeguard and on reception.
They were really supportive with rugby and gave me time off if I needed for training and games. I worked there for about five years but after the World Cup in 2014, I started to think about what I wanted to do career wise.
I knew there were definitely some things that I didn’t want to do. My mum had just had a bit of dental work done and she would call me up and chat to me saying I would be really good at dentistry. I ended up going to a practice and doing some work experience. I really, really enjoyed it.
There’s a lot of things about the job that I really like and four years in, I’m still really enjoying it. I like learning and it’s quite a practical job. You’re problem solving all the time and you’re working with people.
And I like the difference you can make – my mum, for example, wasn’t as confident smiling before her treatment. Seeing that change in her, it just seemed to fit.
Have you taken anything away from rugby that has helped you in dentistry (and vice versa)?
Definitely. I would always advocate getting involved with sport – especially team sports because there’s so much that’s transferable. Some of the main ones seem a bit cliched, such as discipline. In rugby, you have to be really disciplined and you need that in terms of what you’re going to be doing in your career.
Teamwork is also a massive one. You are working within a team and working with people in dentistry. Sometimes you have to try to persuade them to change their habits, something they’ve done for years.
But now you’re telling them that there’s a better way to do something and you have to try to convince them of that and explain why. All of that is exactly the same as in sport. For example, somebody might tackle the same way all the time or run a certain line when there’s something better that could be done.
There’s loads of crossover. Being organised as well – I am generally normally busy. I had to balance all the England stuff with a full-time job, we all did.
How have you balanced playing rugby with a dental degree?
I’ve been quite lucky in some ways in that for the first 18 months of my degree, I wasn’t playing rugby. I got injured in May 2017 – just six weeks before the World Cup. It was about two weeks before the tour in New Zealand and as soon as I did it I thought I probably wasn’t going to make that.
I thought it was just a ligament, which you’d probably strap up and get through it for a World Cup and sort it out after if you could. I was with one of the members of staff who took me to A&E straight after I did it.
None of the girls had ruptured their Achilles before – we’d had a lot of ACLs and shoulders and ankles but within the squad nobody had done their Achilles before. I thought it’d just be six weeks but the member of staff insisted on a scan.
He said it would determine whether or not I made the World Cup and it completely threw me. When I found out it was more like a year recovery from an Achilles injury, with the potential of not even recovering from it. It was a sad time.
On the plus side of this, it meant that when I started dentistry I wasn’t training. And because I’d already juggled rugby with a full-time job, it wasn’t too bad.
How busy I am comes and goes – now, for example, England don’t have any other competitions until the Six Nations. It will just be back to playing club for the time being. But the last few weeks have been another level.
How was it winning against France last month?
It was really cool. It was close – a lot closer than we wanted – but sometimes games go like that and you can actually learn a lot more when it’s not going well all the time. But to then turn it around was really good. We were all relieved.
And this was the first time you’ve represented England for a few years?
Yeah, three and a half years ago was when I last played for them. It was the Six Nations that we won a grand slam in 2017. We finished off with the last game in Ireland in absolutely awful weather conditions – sideways rain, really awful.
But we won. It was great – I’d just scored a try and got my 60th cap. We were heading into World Cup preparation and life was pretty good. But then unfortunately injury struck.
In 2014, you were part of the squad who won the Rugby World Cup in France. What was that like?
It was an unreal experience. I think back to it now sometimes – it was really cool. We ended up going to Downing Street and we won BBC sports personality of the year team award. We weren’t really well recognised back then, not as much as the girls are now.
But I remember when we went to Downing Street there was a lady who had printed off our squad photo and waited outside for us. It was so cute. The boys must have that all the time. For them, it’s probably just another day. But I really remember that sticking out – she had heard we were going to be there and had actually turned up to see us.
Do you think winning the World Cup did a lot for women’s rugby?
Definitely. I think after that quite a lot of women’s sport took off. There was the cricket and the Lionesses World Cup and our other World Cup. There definitely seemed like there was a lot more potential for it.
I remember in our room in France we had a media wall. Throughout the tournament, our media officer would stick up articles and newspaper clippings. As the competition went on and we got to the finals, this wall just grew.
I think we even made back pages of newspapers. This was quite unheard of back then, you wouldn’t really ever have a women’s team on the back page. It was really good. I’d like to think it really helped women’s rugby take off.
What’s 2021 looking like for you?
Honestly, I don’t know. There’s two things you have to consider with sport – the first is injury and the second is selection. Both are really out of your hands.
In terms of dentistry, where I want to take it is completely open at the moment. Specialising would mean more time studying – but I’m getting old now and I think I’d like to work for a bit. Dentistry is quite experienced based so I definitely want to just build on that when I graduate.
At the moment, I’m not really thinking of a speciality but that could be because we missed a large chunk and I haven’t yet found one that I really like. I actually just really like it all. It’s different and every day is something new. I like being busy.
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