Flying Samaritans, the Seed to Pediatric Point-of-Care Ultrasound

There are some experiences in life that seem to have a tremendous impact on the person you become, and the career path you decide to take. When I started working with the Flying Samaritans in medical school, little did I know that it would change the trajectory of my career.

Kids from El Testerazo Mexico

The kids I fell in love with in El Testerazo, holding the pictures I had taken and shared with them. They came by even if they weren’t sick. Of note, they are now in their 20s with families of their own.

Since the UC Irvine School of Medicine was so close to the USA-Mexico border, the UC Irvine Flying Samaritans chapter was actually a driving chapter. Each month we drove down to El Testerazo, Mexico, to give medical care and medications to an underserved community. I immediately fell in love with the community and the children of El Testerazo, Mexico. They would all laugh at my then broken high school-level Spanish, but would appreciate my trying. There was also something about the group of undergraduates (who ran the clinic), medical students, residents, and attending physicians who volunteered their time there that brought back the humanity to medicine. The experience was challenging and rewarding at the same time—to work with limited resources, but to become a trusted member of their community was priceless. Each time I went to the “Flying Sams” clinic, I remembered why I went into medicine in the first place.

During my time with the “Flying Sams,” I worked with a then Emergency Medicine resident, Chris Fox. When he told me he was going to Chicago to do a 1-year Emergency Ultrasound fellowship, I thought he was crazy.

Old ultrasound machine

The ancient beast of an ultrasound machine that we had in the “Flying Sams” clinic.

Not only was he leaving sunny Southern California, but he was going to spend a year looking at ultrasounds? When I looked at ultrasounds, I could barely make out structures; images looked like the old tube TV’s from the 1980s. When Fox returned, he said, “Steph, the next big thing will be pediatric ultrasound.” Again, I thought he was crazy. But slowly, by seeing how ultrasound impacted the management of our patients in El Testerazo, I realized the brilliance in this craziness. Chris Fox’s enthusiasm and “sonoevangelism” was infectious. I think nearly everyone in the “Flying Sams” ended up eventually doing an ultrasound fellowship. Even though the ultrasound machine in the clinic was old, and images were of limited quality, we were still able to impact the medical care of this community that became near and dear to my heart.

And so it began…my passion for emergency ultrasound (now referred to as point-of-care ultrasound) and for Global Health. My initial goal was to become good at performing ultrasounds. As I quickly realized, I was one of the only people who had experience in pediatric point-of-care ultrasound. I felt a tremendous responsibility to become as knowledgeable and skilled as possible, if I were going to teach others this powerful tool. After 4 years of undergraduate education, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of a Pediatrics residency, and 3 years of a Pediatric Emergency Medicine fellowship, I decided to do an additional 1-year fellowship in Emergency Ultrasound. With medical school loans looming and so many years without a “real job,” I was reluctant to do this. This California girl moved from sunny Southern California, to Manhattan to embark on a 1-year Emergency Ultrasound fellowship. This was a move far outside of my comfort zone for so many reasons. And that was one of the reasons why it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has been a privilege to be a part of this growing community… to take better care of the most vulnerable of patients… and to give this tool to other doctors around the world. I certainly would have never had these experiences or opportunities if it weren’t for the “Flying Sams” and Chris Fox; to both I am forever grateful.

 

 Are you involved in global medical education? If so, what led to your decision to go into the field? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Stephanie J. Doniger, MD, RDMS, FAAP, FACEP is the Editor of the first pediatric point-of-care ultrasound textbook “Pediatric Emergency and Critical Care Ultrasound,” and is currently practicing Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Point-of-Care Ultrasound in New York. She has additional training in Tropical Medicine and is in charge of Pediatric POCUS education for WINFOCUS Latinamerica.

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