Flying Samaritans offers pre-med students the chance to serve and learn

Courtesy of UCR Flying Samaritans

Upon hearing good Samaritans, one would imagine an individual passing out meals to the homeless or donating money to a health organization. However, at UCR, we have our very own “Flying Samaritans”—also known as Flying Sams—who not only volunteer in the Riverside community by but also visit El Hongo, Mexico every third Saturday of every month. With the help of donations and membership fees, Flying Sams travel across the border to offer their services to poor disadvantaged communities.

On the third Saturday of every month, members of the club join health care professionals to visit a medical clinic in El Hongo, Mexico. There, they offer free health screenings and medication to impoverished patients that otherwise would not have access to adequate health care. At the clinic, the Samaritans have stations such as optometry, triage, dentistry and doctor’s rooms where students can shadow medical professionals.

In addition, Flying Samaritans also serve the local Riverside community. Members participate in local cleanups with Keep Riverside Clean and Beautiful (KRCB), where they pick up trash by local railroad tracks and streets. Flying Samaritans also partners with UCR organizations such as Overflow—a community service club that dedicates their time to helping the homeless by passing out small lunches and hygienic supplies every month—and attend its homeless movement on Massachusetts Avenue.

Flying Samaritans at UCR was established in 2005 and has been partnering with Cal State Fullerton to operate their Mexico clinics. Together, they’ve treated thousands of patients. With over 20 new members in just three months and over 250 patients, the club is thriving. Through free medical clinics, orphanage visits and countless presents delivered during the Christmas holidays, the Flying Samaritans have been able to make a lasting impact in El Hongo. In fact, many kids that grew up with the clinic have expressed their desires to become health professionals and help eradicate the poverty endemic in El Hongo.

Flying Samaritans’ team of experts and board members have successfully established a family setting at the clinic. Two former Flying Samaritans Pharmacy Coordinators, Gennesi Mendez and Obaid Khan, purchase medications and manage the pharmacy station of the clinic. Citing the clinic’s familial atmosphere, Khan said “Our patients are not just a name on a file, they are a part of our Flying Samaritan’s family. We see how they do each month and hope they are in a healthier shape. The pharmacy is the last stop for our patients and it is very rewarding to see their smiles and appreciation!”

Many people join Flying Samaritans to help others beyond themselves, especially through the Mexico medical missions. Paige Lee, a second-year pre-med student, said, “through Flying Sams I’ve been able to help an underserved community get the medical attention they need and make amazing friendships and connections.” Members like Lee love going back to the clinic because they get to see the improved health of familiar faces and build long-lasting friendships. Lizeth Vallarta, a recent math major graduate, commented that the missions are “such an eye opening experience that allows us to see how working together with our mixed knowledge, abilities and donations makes a big impact in a community.”

Overall, Flying Samaritans presents opportunities for students that strive for a health career in the future to apply their knowledge to community service. The shadowing experiences and clinical patient interaction form a supplement to members’ academic medical education. Flying Samaritans strive to embody what a “Good Samaritan” is and have made an impact in El Hongo, Mexico while building character and experience.

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