Ever wonder what happens to our summer interns once they leave us? Last week extern Caroline Balch surprised us with a visit, and boy, has she ever been busy!

Caroline was one of the “regular” summer interns who entered our program after her graduation from ECU in May of 2017. Deciding to take a gap year while applying to vet school she continued to work with us for the balance of 2017 and then into 2018 when she became the lead intern for that class. Caroline: “I really struggled with that decision to take a gap year while applying to vet school. That was not my original plan; I wanted to keep going without a break but realized I needed more specific experience. I truly believe that staying out for that year and working at the hospital played a huge part in my being accepted into vet school at NC State. I feel like I owe so much to the hospital. It was an important life step for me, a real steppingstone forward into my future.”

Caroline said her first year at school was mainly book work, but she also came across several zoo medicine electives that looked pretty interesting. Those classes, she said, were mostly for residents in zoo and wildlife and she felt a little intimidated at first. “But then when I actually knew some of the answers I kind of felt a little proud of that. Zoo and wildlife is a very competitive area and my DVM will be in Global Health, a merging of human and animal health for the common good. I had to do a paper for the Global Health class and started chatting with the professor about my interest in anthropology. That’s how I ended up in Kenya for a few months. Over the years I’ve found that lots of opportunities just come to me and I just have to have the courage to say yes to them.”

While Caroline did spend some time in Nairobi most of her days were spent in the rural village of Kasigau where she lived with Dr. Olivia Howland, an anthropologist and ethnographer from the UK who had moved to Africa 13 years earlier at the age of 18. Dr. Howland and Caroline were studying people’s perceptions of using traditional and western medicines in the treatment of both humans and their livestock. “It was so different from what most of my classmates were doing, which was clinical work. I was living in the community and really getting to know the people. I quickly realized how unlike vet school it was where you have everything you need from basic supplies to the best diagnostic tools and equipment. It’s amazing to see what you can accomplish out of necessity and with a lot of imagination. It was fascinating to work with the various focus groups who talked about how their livestock were managed and treated using the two methods.” Caroline also worked closely with the veterinary officer in charge of Kasigau and found that the politics of decision making is pretty universal.

Kasigau is surrounded by Tsavo National Park so Caroline saw most of the typical African wildlife “but almost no carnivores.” She was apparently a source of amusement for the locals: “They would always want their children to see me as there are very few white women in the area. I was invited back and told that I would always have a place to stay. I got marriage proposals. They said they could easily find me a husband because I know a lot about animals!”

Soon Caroline is headed back to begin her second year at NC State, and this next semester will focus on surgery, commencing with spaying and neutering dogs. She also moves into an officer position as the Maintenance Chair for the Carnivore Team where she will focus on their health through environment. To see the incredible transformation of Caroline from the day she walked into our hospital in 2017 as (she admits) a shy and reserved intern to literally a woman of the world makes us all very proud. Caroline: “It comes from the confidence I gained working at the turtle hospital.”

Turtle moms and babies are having a banner year, and while the nesting season continues through August the focus is more and more on those babes that are now entering the world after spending about two months in the comfort of their nests. Our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers are on the beach day and night. As of this writing we have 173 nests and 35 hatches. We often get questions about both of these activities but we can’t tell you when either of them is going to happen. The mama turtles and their babies don’t carry day planners, and our permit to work with these magnificent animals prohibits disclosure of any impending hatchings. However, if you see a group of volunteers on the beach at night waiting, and waiting and waiting you’re welcome to join them. Just remember that they are the ones in charge of getting these hatchlings safely into the water.

Tour schedule: we’re open daily (Except Wednesdays and Sundays) from Noon – 4 p.m. Lines can be long so prep for your visit by making sure that you are well hydrated and are wearing sunscreen. An umbrella can help provide shade if it’s a hot and sunny day. The tour lasts approximately one hour once you are inside. Come in and talk turtle with us!


Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.