How I got accepted to Albany Medical College
This is just one in a series of blog posts that will feature medical students telling their stories of how they got accepted into medical school. Today, Ben Gallant shares with us the captivating story of his acceptance to Albany Medical College.
Ben, give us a peek into your life. What initially attracted you to pursue medicine?
What initially attracted me is that my brother, who is three years younger than me, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nine years ago. At the time, I was in 8th grade and I really didn't know much about what it meant to be a doctor. When my brother was diagnosed and evaluated by the team of doctors, as sad it was, it was interesting to see the diagnostic procedures and how they managed his care. They worked as a team, as a unit, and worked with biology, which was a subject I enjoyed.
When I went to a private high school in a town near me, I tried to take as many science classes as possible. I was doing well in them and I enjoyed that. When I applied to Providence, I met one of the professors there very early my freshman year. He suggested that I work on some lab bench research with him. He has been a great mentor to me and has worked with me up until now. We worked a lot with melanoma and ovarian cancer cell lines and saw how different molecules can aid the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs on these cells. It was so cool being able to do that research and feel that I was actually making an impact in the field of medicine.
My brother was an inspiration for me, for all that he went through and how the doctors treated him and managed his health so well. At the beginning, it really was the family connection to medicine which was sad, but which burned this passion into me.
Why did you choose to apply to Albany Medical College?
It felt really tight-knit, a lot like Providence College was - that’s what I was looking for in a medical college.
The unique thing about Albany is that it is first on MSAR, which is in alphabetical order. Therefore, it was one of the first schools I remember seeing as I developed my list of schools to apply to. But when I began research as a freshman at Providence College, I knew from Dr. Wan that one of his students years prior went to Albany Medical College. That stuck with me, and when it came to down to applying, I thought: “I'm going to apply here.” They have a good track record with Providence students, and it wasn't too far from my house. Their match lists matched with some great programs and really hard-working students. They do have a great research program, both clinical and lab bench. It is one of the largest hospitals in New York state and one of the busiest trauma centers in the entire region. It feels like a community too. I got that vibe during my interview. It felt really tight-knit, a lot like Providence College was - that’s what I was looking for in a medical college.
What are three reasons why you think you were accepted?
The first reason is my research and Atlantis shadowing, which can go into one umbrella. I think through those experiences - research, exposure to the area of science - you become dedicated to a project. Medical schools like to see that you are dedicating time to advancing medical research. Shadowing helped me to have an idea of what it is to be a doctor. Atlantis gave me a universal sense by showing me what it was like to operate in Spain's healthcare system and then come back and be able to compare that to the U.S. healthcare system. I believe this gave me a really diverse look at what it takes to be a doctor.
The second reason is probably personality. As it came down to it, we had MMIs at Albany. There are a lot of "how would you handle this situation" stations, where you present your personality and opinions to different people. I think there is research showing strong correlation between success in medical school and getting through MMIs. I think that part of my personality enabled me to get through the interviews there and also speak to different alumni in connection with Providence and Albany. This extended to doctors I shadowed who I still remain in contact with.
Being able to get good grades and show the admissions committee that you can manage a heavy workload is really important.
The third reason is grades, both the MCAT and class performance. Definitely, doing well in courses shows the admissions committee that you can work hard and fight through adversity. If one organic chemistry grade doesn't go well, you always have the next semester. You have biochemistry to prove yourself in the later years and the more difficult biology classes, and so I think that absolutely helped me get there grade-wise. To get accepted to Albany, I had to jumble five or six classes at once, as well as study for the MCAT and maintain my personal life. That was a little difficult at times, but I just buckled down in classes and did really well in those semesters and managed to take the MCAT and do well enough to get accepted right out of college. Being able to get good grades and show the admissions committee that you can manage a heavy workload is really important.
How do you think the Atlantis Fellowship influenced or impacted your acceptance?
I really took the interest that I had in cancer through my research and combined that with the will to see patients in clinic, and that's why I applied to the Atlantis program. That was my first exposure ever to shadowing. It was cool to because it was my also my first exposure to another country. Two birds with one stone there! I got to shadow a nephrologist, maxillofacial surgeon, gastroenterologist and cardiologist. I was just blown away in that environment. In Spain, it was amazing how they work as a team; that is the universal aspect of what it is to be a doctor.
I got to shadow a nephrologist, maxillofacial surgeon, gastroenterologist and cardiologist…I enjoyed that and brought that passion back to the States.
I enjoyed that and brought that passion back to the States and participated in some oncology shadowing in a prostate cancer clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston one summer. The summer after, I participated in a multi-disciplinary oncology lung cancer clinic at Beth Israel and got to shadow a thoracic surgeon, interventional pulmonologist, clinical oncologist and radiation oncologist. It was awesome. Each of those specialties are so different and unique; they all require such different skill-sets. Those differences I also saw in my Atlantis Fellowship. It was cool to get such a wide aspect coming into medical school, after having seen so many different specialties already.
How did you feel after the interview?
I didn't want to make the mistake of feeling too over-prepared and sounding almost robotic in my answers.
You know, the good thing about MMIs is you can feel confident for the most part. Even if you can't relate to every single interviewer, there are eight or ten stations. If you related to six out of eight, that's really solid, you feel really good, as opposed to just talking to one person the whole time. I felt confident, there were some questions that involved difficult ethical scenarios to talk through. I didn't want to make the mistake of feeling too over-prepared and sounding almost robotic in my answers. I wanted to be natural and flow, and I felt like I did that. It felt good.
Come white coat ceremony time, we were at a cocktail reception, and believe it or not, I shook hands with one of the guys who interviewed me. He remembered me and remembered that I went to Providence College! I felt like it was a lot like what residency is going to be is like. Do you connect, can you vibe with these people, can you relate to them in the workplace as well? Albany actually had MS1s and MS2s at the interview stations. They want to know whether you can relate to the people with whom you are going to be in community.
Walk us through the moment you found out you got accepted.
My dad’s an electrician - I was at a job with him and we were fixing an outlet by the pool. I was running wire with him back and forth from the electrical panel and all of a sudden I got an email and opened it up, and I was like: “Oh wow, Albany emailed me!” You could read the status of it in the subject line, and it said “A-C-C…” I clicked on it and said: "Oh my, no way!" I turned to my dad, who was so excited. We finished with the job in a couple minutes, and we were so ecstatic. We went to a restaurant right down the street, and met up with my mom and told her there. The whole restaurant paid for our meals; everyone was so excited. Everything was different, it's a life-changing thing to get that email and get that acceptance. It couldn't have come at a more perfect time than when I was working with my dad, which I've done since I was young. To find out I was entering this career - such a unique but amazing lifestyle - it was pretty cool.
Last question: How can others imitate your success?
Work your hardest within the limits that are realistic for you. I recognized my limits, but I recognized my goals as well and I worked hard to get to those goals. I dedicated enough time to working hard in college and understanding what grades I needed to get, what programs were right for me, how many hours I needed to shadow. I understood how I had to make myself a unique candidate, so I got involved in research.
Open up out of your shell, recognize your limits, work hard at the tasks you take on. Understand that the programs you are applying to are very difficult, but applying with preparation and an understanding of the difficulties helps you work in those years leading up to it. If you get those interviews, just be yourself, because that is what they want to see: the human in you. That will go a long way. It will help you for the rest of your career.
If you can balance that living well and enjoying life with working hard, I think that you'll absolutely be able to imitate the success that I've had. Always have someone by your side. My girlfriend, family and friends have all played strong roles in motivating me even when it got tough. This is not a solo run by any means… use your support network and you'll go farther than you could ever imagine.
Ben Gallant hails from Leicester, a small town in central Massachusetts. Currently an MS1 at Albany Medical College in New York, he received his B.S. in biology with a minor in the neuroscience certificate program from Providence College. In winter 2015, Ben participated in the Atlantis Fellowship program in Guadalajara, Spain. Leaning toward a general surgery or internal medicine residency, Ben dreams of pursuing a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship in the future. In his free time, he enjoys vacationing with friends and family and snowmobiling with his brother and dad.
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