Fall 2014
Alumni Accent

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Rubin Saavedra by airplane

Flying out to serve

Rubin Saavedra, M.D., averages one to two flights a week to Round Mountain to provide medical care to that mining community. Photo by Edgar Antonio Núñez.

Desire to serve fuels physician’s passion

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

With an infectious laugh, a positive outlook and an enthusiasm that is palatable, Rubin Saavedra, M.D. '95, has a passion for caring for the underserved and is the 2014 School of Medicine Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.

"I am blown away; this is quite an honor to be recognized by the medical school. It makes me think that what I am trying to do really matters," said the 1995 graduate who is board certified in family medicine and has spent the majority of his career with the Community Outreach Medical Center, a multi-lingual primary care facility that focuses on caring for the uninsured, the working poor and those battling HIV in southern Nevada.

Saavedra started the Community Outreach Medical Center about 10 years ago when he began reaching out to HIV patients as he was treating them for other conditions.

According to its website, the medical center provides high quality comprehensive health care, intensive case management and collaborative outreach to medically underserved populations in southern Nevada.

Since 2005, nearly 50,000 people have received medical care from the Community Outreach Medical Center saving millions in emergency room visits. The center provides affordable medical care to improve the lives of patients in urban Las Vegas through kind and compassionate medical care.

"I love these patients and enjoy being able to treat them with new medications. They fuel my passion as I gain experience treating them," Saavedra said, adding that his patients are highly appreciative of the time he gives them and the fact that he is a good listener.

"I become their friend," he said. "There is the sense that what I do makes a real impact on their lives because you are there for them. And making a difference for them is what makes it personal, and fun, for me."

Saavedra traces his passion for medicine back to high school, where he was part of the School of Medicine's minorities in medicine program, something that appealed to the first generation Mexican-American, who also worked as an emergency medical technician as a teen.

"Helping the poor and underserved has always been my passion," he said.

As a fourth-year medical student, Saavedra learned he had Guillain-Barre syndrome and had difficulty completing his rotations as a result of the condition.

"Yet this experience of being partially disabled helped me to empathize and become a better doctor," he said.

Following graduation from the School of Medicine, the Las Vegas native completed his residency with his alma mater's family medicine program in Las Vegas, where he said he learned a lot, had fun in the process and gained a great deal of experience, including learning to run a nonprofit health care provider.

He followed residency with an HIV certification program at the University of California, San Francisco before returning to Las Vegas to set up his practice.

Saavedra said he gains as much as he gives in his work with his nonprofit and from that stems his satisfaction and his reward.

When asked about any advice he might have for those early in their medical career, Saavedra said building one's reputation as a physician isn't that difficult.

"Listen to your patients, care for them to the best of your ability and do the best you can with each patient."

Taking his passion for caring for those with limited access to primary health care options, Saavedra flies his private airplane to the extremely remote Nevada town of Round Mountain to care for mine employees and their families. He took over the clinic two years ago at the request of a friend who asked him to consider the challenge.

"This is the only clinic for 75 miles and it represents Nevada's roots as a rural state. I see the state in a totally different way when I fly out there and treat my patients," he said.