WALLA WALLA -- Patients at Walla Walla General Hospital may find themselves doing double-takes when they see two of the hospital's new doctors.
Dr. Suwitda Cholitkul and Dr. Suteevan Cholitkul, twin sisters from Thailand, joined the staff this summer.
Suwitda and Suteevan were inspired to become doctors by their uncle Seri, a phsycian in northern Thailand whose mobile medical practice brought quality care to patients in the most remote areas of the mountainous region. Suwitda had originally envisioned herself pursuing a career in economics or engineering, but her uncle's example changed her perspective.
"He inspired me to see that it's a good job where you can help people," she explained. "I visited him many times and was always very impressed."
Uncle Seri's influence and her own love of science persuaded Suteevan to pursue a career in medicine. "I saw the physician's job as a combination of art and science ... and a way to help people."
Together, the sisters began their intensive medical training. While they attended medical school in Bangkok, their grandfather began to suffer from dementia, and Suwitda and Suteevan saw geriatricians in action.
"I was impressed by the geriatricians that treated my grandfather," Suwitda explained. "Also, I knew the baby boomers were growing older and living longer, so geriatrics would be in demand."
After completing medical school, the sisters separated to work in two different small hospitals in rural northeastern Thailand. They then returned to Bangkok to work in two hospitals in the city.
After they completed their training in Thailand, the sisters received scholarships to work as exchange medical students in foreign countries. Suwitda went to work in Hawaii, while Suteevan went to Japan.
Throughout their studies, the Cholitkul sisters had the shared goal of coming to the United States to continue their medical education. After finishing their exchange programs in Hawaii and Japan, Suwitda and Suteevan completed their internal medicine residencies at Huron Hospital in Cleveland. From Cleveland, they traveled to Honolulu to complete geriatric fellowships at the University of Hawaii.
Having traveled over much of the world, Suwitda and Suteevan decided to make the move from Honolulu to Walla Walla. They visited and interviewed in many cities and towns, but ultimately agreed this was the right place for them.
"I felt impressed with the environment and the people at Walla Walla General Hospital," Suteevan said.
"My sister and I agreed on this place. The people are so nice," Suwitda said. "We compared it to the other places, and we liked it best."
In August, the self-described "persistent, hardworking and caring" sisters started work here.
Though they have spent time apart, the Cholitkul sisters have always been there for each other, and they cannot imagine it any other way.
"We've been together since we were born ... We went through school together, all the way from kindergarten to medical school," Suwitda said.
"But we had different boyfriends," Suteevan interjected.
Suteevan characterizes their relationship as exceptionally close. "We are very good company. We know each other and can read each other's minds."
"She's my companion," Suwitda said. "Sometimes it's hard to find a person who understands, but she understands me very well. Of course as sisters we can have arguments, but I don't think anyone can replace her."
The sisters have enjoyed their time in Walla Walla so far, and look forward to staying in the same place for a while.
"We like it here," Suteevan said. "I plan to stay as long as I feel happy with my practice here."