Read about Melissa Wong rediscovering her passion as she interns with the Esther Honey Foundation at the Rarotonga island in the Pacific.
Kia Orana! It is currently winter in Rarotonga, but since winter here is around the mid 70s, it’s basically Seattle summer for me. The locals are huddling in their fleece jackets, complaining about how cold it is while I am wearing shorts and tank tops, loving every bit of it. There has been a couple of breezy days, but this is so much better compared to the hot and humid summers in Raro.
My internship has been settling in surprisingly well. Feeding and cleaning has become a normal daily routine for me and I know the little tidbits about every one of our patients. Since this is such a small community, the locals are starting to recognize me as an EHF volunteer. A few days ago, a local brought her dog in for dental work. I was chatting with her on the side and told her that I wasn’t used to how much eggs cost in Raro. The next day, she gave me two cartons of eggs and a bushel of bananas. I realize that this is one of the ways locals show their appreciation for the free service we do for their animals.
Now to get onto the main part of this post:
Since I don’t have pets at home, having dogs and cats everywhere is a very new environment for me. Before arriving to Esther Honey, animals were just “cute.” When I first started in EHF, I only touched the animals without fleas, worms, sharp claws, or diseases. Now having worked in EHF for over a month, I am starting to truly love these animals, regardless of their conditions. A kitten with a massive hernia is just as beautiful to me as the fluffy ones we see on ads.
Many of the EHF volunteers and locals on the island have asked me if working in the clinic has changed my mind in becoming a vet instead. And my answer to them is, “I don’t know.” Even though I am currently applying for medical school, I am still an open book. Now, this may make some of you think I am not truly passionate in human medicine and therefore, unfit to become a doctor. But the reason why I decided to go into medicine in general is because I love how flexible, open, vast, and interconnected the subfields are with each other: veterinarian medicine, human medicine, public health, and research. The paths of medicine are endless! However, interning at the EHF may have been my final test to see if I truly wanted to pursue human medicine.
No matter how adorable the animal patients are and how interesting the cases are, I realized that my passion still resides in pediatric medicine. When a preschool class came earlier this week, the other volunteers were exhausted after spending an hour with these kids. However, for me, I felt even more energized than before. I realized that human interactions in medicine is what drives and motivates me, just like how animal drives and motivates the vets and veterinary students. No matter how much I love these animals, I don’t feel the same joy as the other veterinary volunteers. I can see the smiles of pure joy on the other volunteers’ faces when they work on these animals. I don’t have that. At first, I thought it was because I was new to the clinic and I would eventually develop it, but that is not the case. To be honest, I feel a bit jealous that they have that kind of connection and love for animals that I don’t possess. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to work at EHF, but for me, that same kind of happiness and passion that they have is only found when I spend time with the patients in Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Discussing human and animal medicine with a couple of vet students over dinner, I realize they felt the same way. They wouldn’t mind spending weeks and months working on a leg amputation of a dog and nursing it back to health, but they couldn’t imagine doing that for a human. Their passion resides in serving animals, not humans. Veterinary and human medicine may be similar, but there is a reason why vets are vets and doctors are doctors. Our patients of interests differ. Just like how they cannot deal with human patients, I have extremely difficult times holding onto a cat for pre-medications during surgery. My passion resides in serving kids and out of all places to have this important realization, I think a vet clinic on a small island is the best place to have it!