Twins frequently share a special bond, a unique relationship that begins at birth and grows with years of shared experience.
Gianna and Elaina Petrone, who will turn 27 on Aug. 29, have such a bond. The identical twins grew up in Cranston, went to the same schools - including Oak Lawn Elementary School, Cranston Johnston Catholic Regional and La Salle Academy - and participated in sports together. They both excelled academically, and attended Manhattan College in New York.
They had also, over time, each developed an interest in pursuing medicine as a career.
“I can honestly say that, as young as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor,” said Gianna.
Elaina recalls high school anatomy class as having been pivotal in leading her to medicine, although her interest had a different focus.
“At first, we both wanted to do human stuff … that quickly changed,” she said. “I think all little girls want to be [veterinarians] … I combined the two things I love the most, animals and medicine.”
After graduating from Manhattan, the sisters took a year off to mull their options and apply to graduate school. Their paths, at this point, diverged - Elaina went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to pursue veterinary science, while Gianna attended the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine, to study emergency care.
Now, the sisters have added another chapter to their shared story - and an accomplishment few siblings, yet alone twins, can claim. On May 16, Gianna was awarded her degree as a medical doctor. Two days later, on May 19, Elaina received her degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine.
“I don’t think any of us realized how hard it was going to be,” said Elaina. “Luckily, we had each other.”
The sisters are the first in their family to have attended college, and they admit their achievements have been coupled with a certain degree of competitiveness.
“All in good fun, always,” said Gianna.
Elaina joked that Gianna - who was the first twin born, by about a minute - kept that edge as graduation arrived. After attending Gianna’s commencement in Maine, the family made the long trip to Pennsylvania for the second celebration.
“It was like it was old news,” Elaina said with a laugh.
While studying together at Manhattan, they recall being particularly hard on themselves. They feared their grades weren’t sufficient, and often made calls home that Elaina describes as “so dramatic.”
Then, on holidays, the twins would return to Rhode Island - bringing word that any concern they had instilled in their parents, Lenny and Bernadetta, was quite unfounded.
“We both made the dean’s list,” Gianna said.
Throughout their academic journey, both sisters said their parents - who still live in Cranston - and other loved ones were highly supportive.
“Our parents were very much, ‘You can do whatever you want,’” said Gianna.
“We owe thanks to our friends, family and parents,” said Elaina.
Now, as doctors, the sisters’ paths are again diverging. Elaina’s residency at Oradell Animal Hospital in New Jersey will begin with a one-year focus on general practice, and continue for another three to four years depending on whether she pursues a specialty. Gianna is completing her four-year residency in the emergency room at Kent Hospital.
“You never have a dull moment as a veterinarian,” said Elaina.
“You never have a dull moment working in the ER, either,” added Gianna with a smile.
The recent graduation celebrations will not be the last for the Petrone family. The twins’ younger sister, 23-year-old Sondra, is pursuing a master’s degree at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Lenny said he and his wife take great pride in their daughters’ achievements.
“We supported them no matter what they wanted to do,” he said. “We’re very proud of them. It’s very unique.”