Vivian Wong, Class of ‘25, and the Inspirations of Her Asian-American Heritage

Jun 08, 2023
Vivian Wong

When the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) asked Vivian Wong, class of ‘25, what inspired her to apply for their Auxiliary to the AVMA Legacy Endowed Scholarship Program, her response credited the journey her parents, who were raised in Vietnam, have been on her whole life.

“Both of my parents grew up in Vietnam and they gave up their hopes and dreams to start over in a foreign country. With financial limitations, I’ve never asked my parents to pay for my higher education because the least I can do to repay for all their sacrifices is to do what I can to pay for it myself.”

The AVMF Legacy Scholarship is one of two awards Wong has earned this year. The second, a Zoetis Foundation/AAVMC Veterinary Student Scholarship, focuses focus rewarding academically excellent student that are meeting the ongoing needs of the veterinary profession, including diversity, sustainability, and mixed/rural medicine practices. The scholarships, first and foremost, offer financial assistance toward Wong’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. For Wong, though, it meant just as much to put her story as a first-generation U.S. citizen out there for others to see.

“A scholarship makes make a huge impact no matter what value it is, but to know my story resonated alongside my academics made me feel good about myself and the career path I am on,” she said.


Wong is a Californian through and through. She and her two brothers were raised in San Jose. She remained in-state for community college and transferred to the University of California-Los Angeles for her bachelor’s degree. Prior to her education, she was raised in what she describes as a traditional Chinese household where academic and professional excellence were pillars to a successful future. From an early age, hard work and determination were as innate as basic life skills.

Those qualities are rooted in a journey that began in China where Wong's grandparents were born and raised. Needing to flee oppression and unsafe conditions in their native home, they relocated to Vietnam where her parents were eventually born and lived for the first 22 years of their lives. At the onset of the Vietnam War, her parents followed in her grandparents’ footsteps needing to relocate to a safer place. “They were sent to refugee camps in Malaysia for almost a full year before they were sponsored to come to San Francisco,” Wong recalled. “They got on the boats not thinking about where they would end up, only about their safety and future of their family.”

The boats from Malaysia embarked on a weekslong journey across the Pacific to Angel Island, San Francisco. Settling into a new life in the Bay Area, the Wongs knew no English and needed to find immediate work. They found entry level jobs with only a high school education and took community college courses to learn English as quickly as possible.

Wong insists her familial history is no different from that of other immigrant families, but it still acts as a motivator to the journey she now finds herself on at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet).

“I want to achieve this career, and it's dedicated to my parents for giving up everything they had in Vietnam and moving to a foreign country to give me a better life and opportunity to go to a professional school,” said Wong. “My brothers and I are just very grateful of what our parents sacrificed knowing it’s not something we can ever quantify or repay them for getting us to this point. I always look at it as if I can reach the finish line of a career I am happy with as a veterinarian, I will have fulfilled my parents’ American dream.”


Vivian Wong and Family

After she graduated from UCLA, Wong moved back home to San Jose and found two jobs at Banfield Pet Hospital and a specialty emergency hospital. She knew veterinary school was somewhere in her future, but as a self-proclaimed workaholic, she wanted to gain more experience outside the classroom. She spent two and a half years splitting time in emergency settings and on teams that specialized in neurology and oncology, the latter of which remains one of the focal points of her career now halfway through Ross Vet’s DVM program.

The origins of her dream to become a veterinarian go back to her childhood, spending many years after school with her aunt and uncle while her parents worked. In Vietnamese culture, as she describes, animals were not treated with the same respect they are today. Dogs were considered dirty, aggressive, and far removed from being members of a family. When her uncle brought home a Saint Bernard, Wong found him often neglected and alone and she was powerless to stand up to her elders. Unable to stand the sight of her uncle’s dog in need, she stopped visiting their home and spent her time after school alone.

Wong was in middle school when he passed away, and from that moment on she would do whatever she could to help animals in need.

“I always look back on it and it tugs on my heartstrings thinking about it,” said Wong. “That experience made me fall in love with the idea of creating a human-animal bond and dedicating myself to caring for the wellbeing of animals. Back then I could never really do anything about it, but deeply caring for an animal is what rooted this idea of pursuing veterinary medicine. ”


Wong’s time as a student at Ross Vet has been characterized by the same passions and determination that has filled her journey up to this point. Her innate work ethic pushed her to seek many opportunities outside the classroom, including senior delegate role for the Student American Veterinary Medical Association Executive Board and memberships with the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventure, Surgery Club, Diagnostic Imaging Club. Academically, she participates in ongoing research projects and further served the student body as a teaching assistant.

As she worked hard to position herself as a leader among her peers, it also dawns on Wong the role she plays as an underrepresented minority in veterinary medicine. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 4.3% of practicing veterinarians identify as Asian (source).

“I came from a community with an Asian-dominant population, so I didn't really come to this idea of how much of a minority I was until I went to UCLA,” Wong recalled. “In this day and age, diversity is a huge discussion topic and me representing as an Asian-American who's pursuing this career, I think it really opens the eyes of the younger generation to give them the idea that this is an opportunity that is for them as well.”

Ross Vet is a champion for diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities to enhance the ability to meet the needs of the veterinary profession across the globe. Annually, Ross Vet recruits significantly more DVM students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, an institutional goal Wong has seen unfold firsthand.

“It’s inspiring to see different cultures come together to pursue the same thing caring about animal wellbeing. It’s hard to put into words seeing us break barriers here.”

The same applies for her family back home in California as well. For the Wong family dating back to their roots in China, inspiration has never been far. Today, Wong is now the inspiration for those coming after her.

“I have a six-year-old niece who just went to the zoo and asked for a veterinarian playset from the gift shop, and my brother and sister-in-law talk about how she wants to be just like her Aunt Vivian one day.”

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