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Gustafson, Saulcy following identical path to medical school

Barry McNamara
Then and now: Kate Saulcy (left) and Ali Gustafson as Monmouth College freshmen and, posing once again in the College's chemistry lab, as seniors.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – When first-year students Ali Gustafson and Kate Saulcy posed together for a photo in the fall of 2015 as recipients of Monmouth College’s top academic scholarship, they didn’t know each other. But now, more than three years later, the seniors can finish each other’s sentences.

“Filling out our medical school applications was like a joint effort,” said Saulcy as she sat next to Gustafson in the College’s Center for Science and Business. “We emailed our personal statements to each other to make sure they were okay. We even shared the same log-in for one of the admission sites we used. I probably still owe you $7.50 for that, by the way.”

“It was great to have someone like Kate to bounce ideas off of,” said Gustafson, who fronted the $15 registration fee. “It’s really been to our benefit to work together.”

After the two graduate from Monmouth in May with degrees in biochemistry, they both plan to enroll at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford.

Saulcy said the scholarship that she and Gustafson received made her career dream possible.

“I remember thinking in high school that I didn’t know how I was going to pay for med school after paying for four years of college. Getting that call that I’d received the scholarship from Monmouth was so amazing. Because of that, now I can make it all work financially.”

Doctor, doctor, give me the news

Although Saulcy and Gustafson plan to be in school together for four more years in Rockford, their career paths will diverge as they explore different medical fields.

“The general story for people going into medicine is that we want to help people,” said Gustafson, who is from Kewanee, Ill. “I’ve done that type of work in my community through Kiwanis and with my parents, and I wanted to translate that into ‘How can I help people as a career?’ I love children, and I’ve done some shadowing in pediatrics. Of course, you never know for sure what you’re going to do until your rotations.”

“I love emergency medicine,” said Saulcy, who is from Bloomington, Ill. “It’s really fast-paced, and you never know what’s coming through the doors. I think endocrinology is also possible, especially because of all the research I’ve done here at Monmouth involving the structure and function of insulin.”

That research opened travel opportunities for Saulcy, who has presented her findings at a pair of national conferences. She will present at her third conference March 30-April 4 in Orlando, Fla.

In addition to taking several science classes together during their junior and senior years, Gustafson and Saulcy participated in the College’s prestigious eight-week Doc Kieft Summer Research Program in 2017.

“When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t think that research was that important,” said Saulcy. “But now that I’ve done it, and also through my work as a Scot Ambassador, I’m able to talk about all the research opportunities we have here at Monmouth. Those opportunities really help you stand out in interviews.”

Life skills in athletics

Gustafson and Saulcy were also both athletes at Monmouth. Gustafson was a starting hitter on the Fighting Scots volleyball squad, while Saulcy is a distance runner, competing on the cross country and track teams.

As a senior, Gustafson led the Scots by recording 210 of her 479 career kills. It qualified as a “comeback” season, as she missed her junior campaign due to a torn ACL during preseason practice.

“Having that experience helped me make it into med school,” said Gustafson. “In the application process, having that leadership experience that you get in sports really makes you stand out from the others. Everyone’s a science major, everyone’s taken the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). But being an athlete shows you can really be committed to something and be disciplined. It shows that you’re not just a machine.”

Saulcy was also sidelined, losing time because of a stress fracture and a concussion, the latter sustained at an indoor track meet.

“There was a collision, and I got the short end of the stick. It made it hard to keep up with being the ‘student’ part of student-athlete, let alone the ‘athlete’ part. I could only focus on homework for 10 minutes at a time.”

Saulcy recovered from the setbacks to score twice for the Scots at the conference cross country meet.

“Being an athlete really teaches you time management,” she said. “And I formed such great friendships with my teammates. Those friendships are what kept me going through the really tough times.”

A well-rounded education

Saulcy and Gustafson also participated in memorable study-abroad opportunities at Monmouth. Gustafson took a winter break trip to Ecuador her sophomore year, led by anthropology and educational studies faculty.

“One of the best parts of going to Monmouth is the liberal arts classes you take,” she said. “You get that well-rounded aspect here that a lot of the other med school applicants don’t have.”

Saulcy traveled to Eastern Europe and Guatemala, led by faculty ranging from psychology to business.

“On both trips, we got to experience totally different cultures – completely different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. “And we also get to interact every day at Monmouth with people from different backgrounds. To be a good physician, you’ve got to be able to understand different people, and my experiences at Monmouth have set me up for that.”

Except, of course, for the one person Saulcy met at Monmouth who turned out to be remarkably similar.