BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — Unlike the rest of her soon-to-be senior classmates at Shenendehowa, Emma Smith has already been accepted to college; in fact she’s also already gotten into medical school — where she will train to become a surgeon — five years in advance, without going through the process of sitting for the MCATS.
You’re probably thinking, “Is this kid the next Doogie Howser? How is that possible?”
Smith may not possess the same genius intellect of the fictitious teenage physician played by Neil Patrick Harris, but she did earn the prestigious honor of being chosen a ShenNext Medicine Scholar.
“ShenNext Medicine: Selecting Tomorrow’s Doctors Today” is a partnership of Shenendehowa High School, Siena College and Albany Medical College, launched in 2013. It offers an extraordinary opportunity for a Shenendehowa High School student who aspires to become a physician, to be accepted more than a year earlier than usual by Siena College and Albany Medical College for their combined eight-year continuum of medical education, known as the “Siena College-Albany Medical College Program in Science, Humanities and Medicine.” It also involves special mentoring programs and opportunities for select Shen High School juniors with both Siena and Albany Medical College.
“Albany Med has three missions: patient care, medical education and biomedical research,” said Pamela Sawchuk, vice president for community development at Albany Medical Center. “Our community, which is 25 counties in size, supports us so we can deliver on our three promises, and in return we support the community. One way we do this is through educational programs with students in our region. We want K-12 students to understand the vast career opportunities in health care today and here at Albany Med — and what these careers are and what it takes to achieve them.”
“It feels awesome,” Smith said. “All of my friends are just starting the process of applying to college and worrying about it. It’s so nice for me to know that it’s set; I can just focus on my senior year and preparing for my college.”
She continued: “I’m excited to take my passion and actually be able to comprehend that I can have a career in that. Right after I graduate I have those eight years and then I will be in residency, in the hospital doing what I want to do.”
“Ever since I was little, like since the third grade, I wanted to be a pediatrician,” Smith said. “I always loved being able to help people and math and science were my favorite subjects. I just always knew that medicine would be the path for me even though what exactly I want to do within the field of medicine has changed over the years.”
Her interest has drifted to surgery. “I find it really exciting just the fact that you’re in the moment,” Smith said. “You can save someone’s life.”
Her free time is spent playing mid-center field on the Shen varsity soccer team as well as a separate club team, being involved in a couple of business clubs and volunteering. Last summer she spent a great deal of time with To Love a Child Inc., a non-profit organization that allowed her to travel to Haiti. “It’s fun going out into the community to bring out awareness and then taking what we have in my community and bringing it to a third world country, which I enjoy doing,” Smith said.
It all began with an invitation; not everyone could apply for ShenNext. Only the top 10 percent of the class was summoned as sophomores to attend the initial informational meeting. Step two involved creating a résumé and writing an essay explaining why they were the best fit for the program. Then the top 12 were selected to do an interview, and that number was then narrowed down to four semifinalists.
These final competitors spent a year getting a glimpse into the program itself. “It allowed me to see what I would be doing for the next eight years of my life,” Smith said. “It really helped me to solidify that I really wanted to be part of the program.”
Finally, only two students were left standing. Both essentially went through medical school interviews, two intense and rigorous 45-minute interviews, especially challenging because they were back to back. In the end, Smith scored the spot as the scholar.
Smith has always received a great deal of support from her family.
Her mother, Kim, is a kindergarten teacher at Shenendehowa’s Orenda Elementary School and her father, Mark, is a salesman for Iron Mountain. She also has two younger siblings — Maddy a freshman and Zak a sixth-grader.
Shenendehowa has more than primed her for the future, Smith said, citing “All of the different opportunities and wide variety of courses that aren’t offered at smaller schools. Some people think it’s a negative that it’s so big, but I embrace the size.”
“I feel like a lot of people are in shell shock when they get to college with time management and papers, but I feel that Shen has prepared me well.”
She’s ready to spread her wings, take her shot and — eventually — scrub in.
6 questions for Emma Smith
Q: What is your favorite character in a TV series or movie?
A: Meredith Grey from “Grey’s Anatomy” is my favorite; she’s able to balance everything, which is what I want to have in my life. I kind of look up to her even though she’s not real.
Q: What are the essential toppings you put on an ice cream sundae?
A: Hot fudge and snickers.
Q: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
A: Teleportation because I could be everywhere; as a surgeon, whenever someone needed me I could just be there. No more elevators and stairs.
Q: What is your favorite flower?
A: A rose because it looks all soft but it has an edgy side, so it’s the best of both worlds.
Q: If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?
A: A horse.
Q: What are you looking forward to the most this summer?
A: Getting out of the area for a little while and going on vacation to Cape May and the Outer Banks.