News & Stories

First-Year College of Medicine Student Lends Hand to Others

Before she ever matriculated to Northeast Ohio Medical University, Christine Rizkala decided her mission was to help others.

While the now first-year College of Medicine worked towards a bachelor’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Spanish for the Health Professions and First Responders at the University of Akron, Rizkala spent her evenings volunteering for Spanish-led yoga classes at the Hartville Migrant Ministry, in Hartville, Ohio, whose medical clinic has longtime NEOMED ties.

As an undergrad, Rizkala also volunteered as a patient navigator at NEOMED’s Student Outreach to Area Residents (SOAR) Student-Run Free Clinic.

“At SOAR, a patient navigator is a nurse, secretary and janitor – all in one. They’re the first people patients see. Patient navigators check patients in, take their vitals, and get the general history and initial complaint of why they’re visiting the Clinic. Then they report back to the physician team made up of upperclassmen. Once the visit is complete, the patient navigator goes back in to clean the room and prepare it for the next patient,” explains Rizkala.

A jack of all trades

It only seemed natural that Rizkala jumped instantly to help when a Spanish-speaking patient arrived at the SOAR Clinic in September.

“I told Haley Coleman, a fourth-year College of Medicine student and SOAR chief executive officer, that if a Spanish translator was needed, I could help. The patient had her neighbor come in to help translate, too, so it turned out to be a team effort,” says Rizkala.

Rizkala says that this patient experience made her realize how important it is to meet patients halfway when communicating.

“I’m honestly not a fluent Spanish speaker, so it was still kind of rocky, but it helped me realize how much the atmosphere in the room shifted when I walked in and told them I could speak Spanish and help translate,” she says.

SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic

The clinic will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the following Saturdays:

  • Nov. 3
  • Nov. 17
  • Dec. 1
  • Dec. 15


SOAR offers free primary care, chronic disease management, regular routine care, physical exams, basic labs and prescriptions for medications. Students from the College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy work together to provide patients interprofessional care under the oversight of University faculty.

Services are provided to anyone in need at no cost. In 2017, SOAR was named Free Clinic of the Year by the Ohio Association of Free Clinics.

The clinic is located at 4211 St. Rt. 44 in the NEOMED Education and Wellness (NEW) Center. For questions, call 330.552.7080 or email