Hi Reddit!

A couple years ago I did an AMA after my second time serving aboard the Africa Mercy...now I'm back on board for the 4th time in Conakry, Guinea, and I thought it was time for round two!

Mercy Ships is an international NGO that has spent the past 40 years using ships as a platform for healthcare delivery in the developing world. Fun fact: 40% of the worlds population lives within 100 km of a port city. Another fun fact: 5 BILLION people in the world don't have access to safe, timely, and affordable surgery. Reaching out to the people in the greatest need, Mercy Ships is committed to changing those statistics in two key ways: first, by providing free surgery and dental treatment; second, by providing training, equipment, and mentorship opportunities to medical professionals within the host country. This is having tangible results, as even in the 5 years since the ship's last field service in Guinea, the number of cleft lip cases has drastically decreased.

Although some of the problems we see here are unpreventable and could occur anywhere in the world, many of our patients have very extreme cases. The issues we're able to treat include:

(Fair warning, some of these are medical photos that might make some folks squeamish)

I primarily work with adult, general surgery patients (including goiters, women's health, hernias, and lipomas), but part of volunteering here is being flexible to be thrown into almost any place there's a need. I love this place and consider it a privilege and honor to serve here and to spread the word about our work!



EDIT: I gotta go grab some dinner here, but I'll try to be back around 7 GMT!

EDIT 2: Need to get some sleep before my shift in the morning, but thanks all for the engaging discussion and questions.

EDIT 3: Wow this got bigger than I expected. Thanks for the gold!


Disclaimer: Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.

Comments: 591 • Responses: 99  • Date: 

jp_books362 karma

Your hospital ship sounds great, and I heard that yachts can cost more than a million dollars, but do you know the most valuable ship of all?


StarGateGeek348 karma

honks imaginary ship horn

forsurenotabot159 karma

Does your organization do any local medical education/do anything to help the lack of medical infrastructure that exists in these places? Like trainings of local docs, public health programs, etc? And how do you go about choosing these places to go and work?

Also what do you do for fun on these ships? And what do you do when you feel like you need a break/need to take a step away from it all?

StarGateGeek179 karma

Absolutely! Medical Capacity Building has become a very major part of our programs over the past decade. Surgeon training, sterilization, biomed, agriculture, anesthesia, neonatal resuscitation...we try to identify the biggest needs and adapt our programs to best fit our host country. Screening teams do a lot of this assessment in cooperation with the country's ministry of health and major local hospitals. Here's a great story from Benin.

For fun, there's always people around to watch a movie or play a board game, when the internet's cooperative I play the odd game of overwatch, and the odd dinner off-ship at a local restaurant. Shawarma is really good here.

EDIT: I keep forgetting links.

jennparm29 karma

I am thrilled right now because I lived in Guinea for a few years in high school - spent 6 months in Conakry. The shawarma is the BEST there! Those fries inside? 👌🏻

StarGateGeek14 karma

Aww yeah.

ronpaulbacon21 karma

How do you feel about the balance of meeting the need now, vs putting local clinics out of business by saturating the market with free services?

StarGateGeek57 karma

I don't think we're putting local clinics out of business. Most of the services we're offering either aren't available period, or they're way too expensive for our patients to afford.

Valid question though, I could see that being a potential issue with the dental program. I might ask around if anyone has some insight there.

deadpoetic3336 karma

You didn’t actually post the link

Interesting AMA though :)

StarGateGeek13 karma

SHOOT. I fixed it.

forsurenotabot6 karma

Thank you so much for your response, that is seriously so great to hear! How is it working with the ministry of health of a certain country, especially if they are going through changes in leadership, etc?

Also the article didnt get hyperlinked

StarGateGeek20 karma

Sorry! Fixed the link.

Some governments can be...challenging, for sure. Wanting to get as much credit as they can for the work we're doing...lots of fingers in the pie, if you catch my meaning. While others are a bit more trusting and hands off. Changes in leadership usually lead to unrest, the biggest issue there is transportation. Roads get closed or security checkpoints added, making it much more challenging and time-consuming to get inland.

OkProfessional9130 karma

Are you ever worried about your safety while volunteering?

StarGateGeek205 karma

We really have it pretty good on the ship, there's a few layers of security keeping us very safe. When venturing ashore, the only thing that really concerns me is the state of the vehicles and how they drive...So many close calls and so few working seat belts!! You kind of get used to it though.

bloatedplutocrat34 karma

Follow up question on that one. Are they driving old beat up Toyota Hilux's?

StarGateGeek122 karma

No...more like this

Magus679636 karma

Holy bananas.

SgtKashim64 karma

Last spring I traveled through Senegal and Mali, mostly as a tourist. That looks like a "sept-place" - a "seven seater". They're almost always a beat-up old Renault station wagon, nominally seating 7 passengers as a shared taxi. The more rural you get, the more cramped things get. The worst we had was 11 people wedged into one - driver, 2 in the front passenger seat and 4 in each row. One of the doors was held on with one of those bathroom door toggle locks. The other door was just held on with a nut and bolt. The seatbelts had all been cut, not that it would have mattered... The trunk was full of onions and bicycles, and the roof rack had my pack, dozens of bags of produce, and a very unhappy goat in a sack, all destined for the market in Tambacounda.

Then our driver got in a little road-rage incident, and we ended up racing another taxi till we spun him out.

If you've only ever driven in the US or Europe... the roads in Mali/Senegal are a totally different experience.

TravelFar_RideHorses42 karma

Lived in Togo for a while; the bush taxi experiences were the BEST. My favorite was when I went 7 hours from Zafi to Sokode with a goat on my lap- I had no choice. To this day, I don’t know who that goat belonged to lol

StarGateGeek8 karma


StarGateGeek18 karma

This guy Africas.

needmorexanax72 karma

Do you get paid?

StarGateGeek179 karma


I actually pay to be here.

can_dry75 karma

Can you explain? I assume that means you paid your airfare to get to the ship... but you don't pay for food/lodging while on board working... do you??

p.s. kudos to you and your mates on board! Bloody awesome! If there's a need for an IT guy let me know, I'd love to join in.

StarGateGeek108 karma

Yep. All crew pay a monthly fee to cover room & board.

Edit: There is certainly an IT team on board, check out current opportunities here

Permanently-Confused31 karma

"Minimum commitment ~2 years". I don't get it, they expect people in skilled/in demand positions to PAY to be there, and then have the balls to ask for year long commitments?

StarGateGeek39 karma

It depends greatly on the urgency of the need and the type of position. For some jobs, they wouldn't function well with a high turnover rate, and there isn't always someone available to train someone new.

TheCopenhagenCowboy19 karma

Is your security armed?

StarGateGeek58 karma

Can't post specifics about security online.

Bigmouthstrikesback25 karma

Amazing considering the organization paid nearly $13 million in salaries last year...

StarGateGeek17 karma

Not sure where you got that number. Last year's administrative expenditures were around 4 million. https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4080

StarGateGeek36 karma

Ahhh. That would fall under operational costs - much of that would probably be the wages we pay our locally hired day crew.

longislandtoolshed18 karma

How do you cover your expenses for things at home? Savings?

StarGateGeek24 karma

Work for a few months, save up as much as I can.

justatouchcrazy69 karma

Can you speak to the religious aspect of Mercy Ships and your experience in that regard? They are obviously a religious organization with strong religious views, which I can tolerate and understand, but do you feel that it interrupts patient care, daily operations, or leans too much on conversion and ministry? Additionally, I'm an anesthesia provider and would consider volunteering in the future, but do you feel overly "prayed to" or restricted due to their religious stances?

StarGateGeek77 karma

It is a faith-based organization, and prayer is a part of daily life (usually at the start of every shift). That being said, there are patients, local workers, and volunteer crew here from many different backgrounds and faiths. Efforts are made to honor and respect the personal beliefs and choices of each individual here. It is certainly not a requirement that you are a 'Christian' to volunteer here - but it is an integral part of the long-term crew community for sure. If you don't fall under that umbrella, I would say a have bit of patience and grace and you'll do just fine.

justatouchcrazy52 karma

I'm an atheist, but I don't detest religion in any way and I'm always supportive of my patients and coworkers and their needs/beliefs. When I was doing humanitarian care in Central America religion was a central part the local hospitals that I was doing and teaching anesthesia in. So I totally get it. My initial concern with religious groups is always that religion is the primary focus, either pushing ministry before patient care or to the lifestyle of the volunteers. Have you felt any of that, or does it feel more like a regular (considering the setting, of course) hospital with an occasional prayer session thrown in?

StarGateGeek49 karma

I would say, to me, it feels like the right balance. Patient care is 100% the priority in everything we do, but spiritual/emotional support is an element of it. We pray before shift, but if there's a need to be met we don't put it on the back burner to accommodate that. Local chaplains are hired to offer spiritual support, but also to better communicate hard news in a way the patient can understand. For many of us, faith is the motivation for our work, but it doesn't get in the way of being decent health professionals.

Sky_Muffins11 karma

Do you at any point have to take a religious oath or declare yourself a believer in anything? Is prayer participation or presence at it mandatory?

StarGateGeek19 karma

Prayer pretty much happens in every work setting, but you're not in any way obliged to participate or declare your faith.

DansPiHacks47 karma

Do you know a lady called Jackie who works with the dentistry stuff?

StarGateGeek61 karma

Sure do! We shared a cabin in Benin!

DansPiHacks43 karma

She attends my church when in the country. (Emmanuel leamington spa)

StarGateGeek62 karma

Your church has a spa? SIGN ME UP.

Three__1446 karma

You’re doing great work there, but in the long run I would think they need their own hospitals. What would it take for these countries to become self sufficient?

StarGateGeek63 karma

You're 100% right. We partner a lot with local hospitals and professionals to increase their scope of practice and improve their facilities. One of the biggest barriers to people getting adequate care is infrastructure and travel times, and that is not something that can be fixed overnight.

ihavetoefingers40 karma

How can I get involved in something like this?? Also, do you think they have any need of Clinical Dietitians?

StarGateGeek80 karma

YES!!! Absolutely!!! There's an intensive Infant Feeding Program that gets our cleft lip & palate kids strong enough for surgery (baby Paul is the most extreme example I've ever seen). Most of our patients in general are on the malnourished side, too, so we give a lot of them a lot of TLCP (tender loving care & protein).

Check here for more info!

EDIT: Forgot to link to baby Paul!!

Ordinary_investor37 karma

First of all, you are doing honorable job, thank you for that!

Secondly, i was wondering, please describe with few sentences the overall atmosphere on a ship after the day has finished.

The ship, its people, the ocean, weather, coastline, view, sounds, smell etc? What is it like out there in the evening standing on the deck or inside the ship?

Thank you in advance!

StarGateGeek55 karma

Thanks! I consider myself pretty lucky!

The atmosphere is pretty chill, if you wander through a common area, there'll be people with earbuds chatting with family, clustered groups hanging out, playing a board game or having a tea.

The smells (above deck and ashore) can be....interesting. There's the odd waft of rotting garbage now and again, but definitely the smell of sea. And engine exhaust. Much quieter here in Guinea than other ports, there's usually loud sirens from the cranes loading and unloading cargo ships. Evenings are a pretty nice time to sit out and enjoy the (slightly) cooler air and the sun, setting behind the nearby islands.

Ordinary_investor12 karma

Thank you for your reply! Honestly, currently typing it from my european glass window office building, behind the computer desk, stressed out from week, dark outside with snowy winter (which overall is very nice though), your kind of atmosphere currently sounds like a dream. For a brief moment, it almost felt that i was on that ship deck, thank you for that!

StarGateGeek28 karma

My pleasure!

...I'm a tiny bit jealous of your snow.

ScarletSide36 karma

Do you ever need rehab therapists? OTs or PTs?

StarGateGeek48 karma

Absolutely! Big part of the ortho and plastics (burn contracture release) programs.

privateprancer29 karma

Are you familiar with White Savior Complex? If so, how do you address it during your volunteering?

StarGateGeek37 karma

White Savior Complex

Whew. Tough question. There are some situations where I've seen this happening, and certain individuals who probably have this mindset, but I think the majority of the volunteers here are trying to work alongside our local translators and crew to collaborate, not to get a good photo op.

fred_lincoln27 karma

My SO is working on a BSN right now (literally as I type this!). We'd LOVE to work on a ship like this. Are there any positions for uneducated rubes like myself?

StarGateGeek30 karma

Totally! Housekeeping, reception, galley, dining room, to name a few. Positions are all listed here

Williamsnook17 karma

I work on a ship and we have several connections with Mercy ships. What is there to do on the ships if you're not a nurse or a doctor?

StarGateGeek35 karma

Tons! Deck crew, engineering, galley, housekeeping, accounting, reception, IT, plumbing, teaching (there's a school for long-term serving families)...the list goes on for a while.

You can see a full list of opportunities here

gboyaj16 karma

Does MercyShips have any opportunities for medical students to get involved?

StarGateGeek26 karma

I don't believe so. I found out about them while I was in school, but wasn't able to volunteer 'till I had 2 years work experience under my belt.

Pubeshampoo15 karma

Opinion on Doctors Without Borders?

StarGateGeek31 karma

Great organization. Focuses on primary health, training, and delegating local professionals. All stuff that can help reduce the burden of surgical need.

DemNeurons15 karma

Hi there! Thank you for all that you do!

Serious question here: My family operates a foundation and the organization you work with has come up recently. After a bit of healthy debate, I had discovered that a large percentage of funds raised ~25% is put back into fund raising rather than for the mission of the organization.

This is rather troubling as we tend to like >90% on mission. I'm curious from your perspective as a volunteer how you think resources are handled by Mercy. Are there scarcities of resources on board that could otherwise be solved ifore of fund raising went towards your actual mission?

The med student of me loves the idea of Mercy ships, but the more business/charity side of me is a tad skeptical.

StarGateGeek15 karma

Hmm. I can't say I'm an expert on the finance side of things, but I usually look at charity navigator as a resource. They say only 13.7% goes towards fundraising, which, for an organization as big as Mercy Ships is, I think is fairly reasonable. This ship costs A LOT to keep running. If there are scarcities, it is because of our remote location and setting, not because of lack of funding.

CanadianMapleBacon14 karma

From a Canadian nurse who is also interested, is there a minimum amount of time that is required on ship? What kind of expenses do you incur on a personal level and do you find it hard finding time to communicate with your family back home?

StarGateGeek31 karma

Depends on what kind of position you're coming for.

Ward nurses, minimum 2 months.

OR/PACU nurses, minimum 2 weeks.

Communicating with family is pretty easy (usually) thanks to half decent internet (usually), and finding time is not too hard in the evening when time zones align.

I am usually able to fundraise enough to cover the costs of being here, so my rent/insurance back home is really my only expense.

VerbalThermodynamics14 karma

Are there pirates?

StarGateGeek28 karma

Yar, aye, there be pirates. Not so much an issue in Port, but when sailing between countries a wide berth is taken around the coast.

aeon-lakes4 karma

When we arrived in port with the MV Anastasis, I was a little surprised to see steel grills put up on every available access while we were on our way in. And even more surprised to be greeted by a group of angry and thwarted looking local gentlemen hanging off the one outside the 'shop' area when I went there to attend to something, even before we'd docked up properly. Until a wall of containers had been put up around the ship at the dock to make an 'airlock' area for the vehicles, we had an armed guard at the gang plank! Have the port areas become a bit less 'hot' in the last 20 years?

StarGateGeek3 karma

I've never witnessed any similar issues, outside of internal political unrest. I know the screening sites can get heated, but this year's sounds like they went pretty smoothly.

nehaspice13 karma

I saw you mentioned you pay to be there. For those considering joining the effort, can you talk about how you make it possible to sustain yourself outside of this? I understand if that’s too personal

StarGateGeek22 karma

I have been able to raise enough money usually to cover the costs - through personal donors and events. I have a part-time job that I can go back to, and save up as much as I can before returning. I rent, and paid off my student debt ASAP, so my expenses at home aren't too crazy.

Succubic_Unicorn12 karma

Is there any way to do this without having to pay? I understand that it's a volunteer effort, but I don't even begin to have enough to pay to get a spot on the ship. Are there programs for that?

StarGateGeek9 karma

There are discounted rates for anyone from a low-income country, but other than that, no, unfortunately.

ryusm9212 karma

I was audibly muttering "holy shit" as I was browsing through the photos. Absolutely Incredible work, thank you guys so much for your efforts.

That being said...How do you like Guinean food? Any favorites you'd like to recommend?

StarGateGeek24 karma

Plantains. Fried plantains baby.

fred_lincoln12 karma

Has there ever been a case that couldn't be handled on the ship? If so, what is the protocol for such cases?

StarGateGeek30 karma

Yes. We have amazingly talented and smart surgeons on board, but sometimes the cases we see are just too far gone to be able to correct. The risks would far outweigh any benefit we could provide. Agressive cancers are one of those cases - because we have no means of providing chemo or radiation, and they are either non-existent or very expensive and hard to come by locally. Unfortunately, when there's advanced metastases, we do what we can to support the patient and their family, but surgery would just cause more harm than good. We have a very dedicated palliative care team that steps in to provide education, emotional support, and pain management.

M1chaelSc4rn11 karma

That’s wonderful. Despite all the messed up things going on in the world, it’s nice to know that operations like this are still underway.

How did you find out about Mercy Ships, and at what point did you decide “I’m doing this”?

StarGateGeek4 karma

My dad saw a documentary and told me to look it up on YouTube. I was still a student but always wanted to do something along these lines, and it ended up being a great fit.

citylad299 karma

Have you explored guinea? If so what did you think of it ?

StarGateGeek33 karma

I haven't had much of a chance to explore Guinea (trying to be frugal as I plan to come back in the fall), but I can tell you it is hot! Right now the wonderful Harmattan winds are blowing sand down from the desert, so everything's quite dusty all the time. The people, though, are just lovely.

One night we were in a car trying to get back to the ship, but all these transport trucks were lined up in our way...not moving (probably trying to be the first in the port to get their loads in the morning). After a minute of poking our heads around trying to find a way through, a couple guys started shouting and waving and directing us and the trucks to get us through! Total stranger.

vartan662 karma

So you actually leave the ship to go and see the patients, or they come to you?

StarGateGeek6 karma

We have screening teams that go throughout the country to assess potential patients and give them appointment times, then they come to us either by their own means or we offer money for transportation.

MrChosenRoseWolf20027 karma

How is different from being a us nurse? what are the challenges you face from this type of work? Is there anything else the public should understand from this

StarGateGeek14 karma

I can't really tell you what it's like to be a US nurse, but from a Canadian perspective, there are certainly lots of differences.

It is a very multi-cultural work environment, not just because of our patients, but our colleagues who are from all over the globe! For many, English is not their first language, so being patient and able to speak clearly and concisely is crucial. The types of medications and equipment can be different from what I use at home, so you really have to have an open mind underneath your critical thinking cap.

beegma7 karma

Awesome! I am a RN in the states and I work in pediatric public health. I have been very interested in doing something like that. How are you able to take that much time off and retain your job? As a state employee I have the ability to get donated volunteer leave from my coworkers (we get 26 hours a year and few use all that), so I've considered going that route as a medical volunteer.

StarGateGeek11 karma

I am fortunately only part time and can take 6 months of leave a year per my contract if it doesn't interfere with overall staffing (at my manager's discretion). I know it's harder for American nurses to swing, and many I know have quit their jobs to be here.

restingbitchlyfe7 karma

I’m an RN and former MK just starting OR training, and Mercy Ships has been on my radar for quite a while now. What are the minimum terms you serve for, time-wise, and what is the approximate cost?

StarGateGeek7 karma

OR nurses can come for just 2 weeks! Crew fees are $700 USD a month, but that goes down if you serve for a longer term. And, of course, the cost of airfare.

cytochrome_p450_3a47 karma

Do you have an expanded scope of practice there as compared to Canada? I’ve heard that nurses traveling to Africa for medical missions essentially are allowed to do what doctors do in Canada/USA.

StarGateGeek9 karma

Yeah, I know that often happens in smaller, rural clinics. Here, the standards are very close to the North American or British scope of practice. We, fortunately, have great doctors around to help out..and they really do help out. Right down to scrubbing the ceilings during deep cleans.

Mango_citrus7 karma

You guys looking for an electrician? And do you pay people with money?

StarGateGeek8 karma

Yes. And no.

Everyone here actually pays a monthly "crew fee" (essentially room and board).

Edwardian6 karma

My mom has done 3 tours, and is about to do her fourth on the Mercy. She has some interesting stories from some ports, and others that were completely calm and smooth (Madagascar for example.) What has been your favorite?

StarGateGeek11 karma

Haha, I actually found Mada to be the most rocky (literally, as in the ship moved A LOT), but probably my fave! It is a beautiful country, SO different from West Africa...and I would love to return there someday.

urabasicbeet6 karma

This is so awesome.

What’s some of the interesting pathology you’ve seen? We’re you guys able to treat it?

StarGateGeek13 karma

The maxillo-facial tumors are pretty wild. Most originate in tooth enamel. They're benign, and could be easily identified and dealt with in a regular dental check-up. Left unchecked, however, they can grow for years and years until they threaten the airway and/or compress the esophagus. Our max-fax surgeons are pretty much pioneers in dealing with them, and they can do amazing work.

MicarHaua5 karma

How can you cope with being such an awesome human being?

StarGateGeek9 karma

I work with a lot of actually awesome human beings that are very humbling to be around.

camtea5 karma

I think my uncle is serving on your ship as a ship officer! I had no idea about Mercy Ships until he posted on his facebook. I'm absolutely blown away by the amount of services you provide! Are there any that address mental health issues?

StarGateGeek3 karma

Cool! Mental health is certainly an area of need, but it's not something we currently provide.

ReadyPlayerTrav5 karma

I’m a new nurse in the ICU with 9 years experience in the ER as a paramedic. Just curious how you afford to volunteer your time for such long periods of time? I have looked into serving on the ship however the minimum commitment is 8 weeks I believe. Thank you for your time and I appreciate what you do.

StarGateGeek3 karma

I'm fortunate to have a reasonably flexible boss and a part time position that allows me to take unpaid leave. I just work and save as much as I can when I'm home.

eatonsht4 karma

I'm a surgeon, I have a few questions. How do you guys handle follow up? What do patients do when they have surgical complications?

One of my passions as a surgeon is international health care, however the law of Frankenstein has always blunted my efforts. Post op is a time period of weeks to months where something can go wrong. Most people are unable to manage a medical mission of that time period.

StarGateGeek5 karma

Great question.

With the screening done in advance, the surgeries are usually scheduled to have the most complicated cases near the beginning of the 10 months spent in each country. That gives us a decent amount of time to do revisions if needed and address complications.

Last year in Cameroon we had a hernia patient with a very unexpectedly complicated recovery (ileus among other things), right at the end of the field service. We did as much as we could in the time that we had, and then transferred him to a good local hospital.

Follow up teams visit months and years down the road, and in this particular patient's case, he did quite well after a bit more time in hospital.

Edit: we also have an ashore respite house for patients living far from the ship, so they can stay there until follow up appointments.

eatonsht3 karma

How do I get involved?

zhunt993 karma

Where did you get your training in medicine? Any recommendations on Canadian universities for someone interested in nursing?

StarGateGeek4 karma

I can't say there's any university I'd recommend over any others. Pick somewhere you'd want to live as a place to study.

nag_some_candy3 karma

Whats the worst thing youve ever seen?

StarGateGeek14 karma

Honestly, coming back home my first year through Heathrow at Christmas. So much glitz and glam...thousands of dollars of temporary decorations...reverse culture shock. Made me feel a bit sick. Gives a whole new meaning to the 1% when you've really seen the 99.

Phlutteringphalanges3 karma

I have a few questions:

  1. What's your scope of practice like on board? Is it comparable to the scope you have in Canada? I have a lot of physician coworkers from South Africa who say the scope of nurses there is a lot more restricted.

  2. When I look at open nursing positions on their website it says that they prefer a minimum commitment of two years. How have you been getting shorter contracts? Do they make much of a push for longer ones or are they happy with the time you can give?

  3. Mercy Ship's website says they're a faith-based charity. How does this affect the care these ships provide? Does their care have religious undertones? I'm not sure how to phrase this nicely but do they force Christianity on their staff or patients?

StarGateGeek4 karma

  1. My scope is pretty much the same as at home. Most of our protocols are modeled off of North American and UK standards.

  2. You might have been looking at a screening position? Ward nurses minimum is 2 months and OR or PACU can be as short as 2 weeks.

  3. I've answered this in a couple places, but I don't see that being the case. We pray openly each shift, and ask patients individually if they'd like us to pray for them before surgery. If they say no, that's cool. If you don't want to come to the church meeting, no one is taking attendance. There is prayer in almost every meeting, but then it's business as usual. You're not in any way obligated to participate.

RonaldTheGiraffe3 karma

Are there any chickens on board the ship?

StarGateGeek6 karma

Bahhaha! Thanks for cracking me up.

There are chickens, but only dead, pre-packaged and/or frozen ones, as far as I know.

Chairkatmiao3 karma

Hi! Are the people that work there aware of the fact that mercy ships is (or was until 2003) part of a Christian missionary organization? And does it bother you?

StarGateGeek3 karma

I think everyone's pretty aware of that, it is still a faith-based organization, though open to any who wish to volunteer.

SidearmAmsel3 karma

Is there a way to get invloved without having any medical expierence? I would love to help but Im not a nurse or doctor and am curious how else I can contribute

FuzzyMeep72 karma

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

StarGateGeek5 karma

I've never seen die hard.

FuzzyMeep72 karma

Life is a lie. Thank you for responding

StarGateGeek2 karma

The cake is a lie. It was my pleasure.

rowanway2 karma

I just want to say thank you. Do you enjoy your job?

StarGateGeek8 karma

I really do. Getting to come year for a few months every year makes the stresses of work at home more bearable. The work environment here is VERY different - it's so team oriented and patient first. Things change when making money is not the priority.


Why do you think the number of cleft lip cases have decreased in Guinea? Is it caused by a lack of a certain vitamin? I'm in the USA and 2 of my husband's 5 siblings had this condition and I didn't think there was any way to prevent it.

StarGateGeek14 karma

Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. Because of some of the medical training we've been able to provide to local surgeons, there aren't as many untreated cases that have come seeking surgery. They've been repaired by their own surgeons in our absence. Which is awesome.

CordialEnglishman2 karma

UK based nurse here considering volunteering in a few years time once I have more experience & savings. What prep work would you advice? ( which languages to focus on) Also i assume your dorming, how many to a dorm?

StarGateGeek5 karma

French is certainly handy to know, as it is the most common language in many African countries. A little research into tropical medicine or global health is nice to have under your belt too.

Rooms depend a bit on your time commitment and position, but it can be anywhere from 2 - 12 people in a cabin. The larger cabins have curtained-off spaces for each bunk, so it's not as bad as it sounds. :)

Todojaw212 karma

How many languages do you speak? Which language do you normally use while on the job?

StarGateGeek4 karma

I only speak English and a bit of basic French, but we have wonderful translators that are hired locally who help us communicate. There are literally hundreds of languages in this region of Africa, and while French is quite common, in rural areas it's less so.

slhopper2 karma

Are there needs for other health care workers? I am a radiologic/CT tech and hope to someday serve in that capacity with a program such as yours.

StarGateGeek5 karma

Yes! We need just about everything any hospital does.

TMcFly2 karma


StarGateGeek9 karma

Lots of smiles from grateful patients.

SgtKashim2 karma

Last spring I traveled through Senegal and Mali (Dakar to Bamako via bus/taxi/ndiaga ndiaye/walking), mostly as a tourist. What struck me most was how quickly infrastructure seemed to degrade. Even in Dakar, a relatively modern and wealthy city (by Senegal standards, anyway) buildings only a few years old were already falling apart.

How do you build a meaningful medical presence given the constant infrastructure failures?

StarGateGeek4 karma

Expertise can't fix crumbling buildings, but it can at least guide future projects to better standards. We try to give equipment and sometimes fund renovations when it is really needed, and offer as much mentorship and training as we can.

Wolfofyyc2 karma

THANK YOU for doing the work that few would choose to put their lives on hold to do. Mercy ships is something my wife and I have planned for the future (she’s a nurse, I’m in IT) and we think the organization is absolutely fabulous. To see so many lives changed on a regular basis, and to see the difference self confidence can make for the patients is amazing. I would love to know what the plan for the rest of your career is? Will you integrate back in to nursing in Canada?

StarGateGeek7 karma

So far I have only come for short term (2-3 month) stints, but I'm planning to return for longer (up to 10 months) in the fall. I may or may not need to quit my job for that - and if I do I might get into a slightly smaller hospital when I get home, try the waters of PACU or ICU. No definite plans beyond that yet!

TheDinkleberg2 karma

What is the best, most impactful way we can help?

StarGateGeek4 karma

If you can't volunteer yourself, consider supporting a volunteer or donating directly to Mercy Ships. They have remarkably low overhead costs for an organization of their size, in large part because volunteers all fund themselves. In other words, monetary donations go a long way.

If you're outside of the US, check if your country has a Mercy Ships national office - if you give through them you can still get a tax receipt. :)

Taser-Face2 karma

I imagine a contagious disease could really put everyone at serious risk there. Do you run numerous tests in quarrantine prior to exposing them, or do you just like wing it and hope for the best? I guess what I’m asking is about these protocols for dangerous situations like ebola, etc.

StarGateGeek5 karma

Totally. We definitely don't wing it, lol. The ship is like a petri dish; colds and stomach bugs can easily rampage through. When ebola broke out in Sierra Leone/Liberia, plans had to be weighed and changed - instead of west Africa the next 2 years were spent in Madagascar.

We do a lot of screening to avoid bringing anything very infectious on board.

hanapants2 karma

Do you ever get sea sick? I would love to come and volunteer, my husband is coming round to the idea, but we both get sea sick, so he's kind of laughed it off. But I genuinely feel like this could be something I need to do. I first heard about the ships when my parents were missionaries in Africa and I was about ten, and the idea has always been in the back of my mind. Also, what is your favourite part of community living on the ship?

StarGateGeek3 karma

I don't get sea sick, and most people don't in Port, but the ship does move eeever so slightly.

My favourite part is spontaneous game nights.

fat_itch2 karma

My girlfriend and I are both RNs from Canada with a few years of ICU experience... do you think we would be able to both get positions together at the same time? What was your work experience (i.e. number of years working) going into it the first time? Is the ship in high need of volunteers or are they very selective? We are on holiday in South Africa at the moment and this is super interesting! Thanks so much for doing this AMA

StarGateGeek3 karma

That is quite possible, though you might have to wait a while after applying for timing to line up. ICU nurses are certainly given a higher priority. I only had 2.5 years experience before I came, and I was able to get in that fall after applying in the spring.

waves to the south

oneeyed_king2 karma

Do you have any need for pharmacists?.

I know you are a charity but do you guys provide food for the workers or even financial assistance?

StarGateGeek2 karma

We sure do, our pharmacy is small but essential!

Do you mean the local workers or volunteers? Local crew do get paid to work with us, and fed while they're on shift.

itsmason152 karma

I want to do this. I want to do this so badly I cannot even explain it to you or anyone else. Im 21 and just started my first semester for an Associates degree in Nursing. What do I need to do to be able to do this? Any specific area I should specialize in? I’m very interested in emergency medicine and working in the ER when I’m done with school. Is this a good route to get me to where you are or do you recommend working in a different area?

Basically, just give me any advice that can help me do what you are doing right now. I am longing to volunteer for an extended period of time and practice medicine in a poor part of the world. This is just exactly what I need. Thank you for doing this and thank you in advance for any advice you have for me.

StarGateGeek2 karma

Good on you! Almost any nursing experience can be put to good use here. Public health? Good for screening or admissions. Obviously perioperative care is quite relevant. ICU nurses are absolutely needed. ER experience could get you a spot on the emergency medical team (basically our code/911 response). Good luck in your studies!

shuipz942 karma

Wow, small world. A girl I went to the same high school with in Australia could be on the ship (first name starts with M).

How often does local beliefs and customs get in the way of the work you're trying to do?

StarGateGeek4 karma

There's a fair few Aussies on board, haha.

We try to work in a way that is respectful to our patient's beliefs. We often hear stories that their neighbors believed they were disfigured or injured because of a curse, or as punishment for something they did. This holds some people back from coming to us, but we take every opportunity to show them they have value. The patients themselves are some of the best therapists you could ask for - welcoming new patients in and sharing their stories. They really have a beautiful, spontaneous little community on the wards.

ccualumni1 karma

I have two questions: 1. Why is there a pot leaf on your ID? 2. Why didn’t you take the new speed rail train there?

StarGateGeek3 karma

1) That is a maple leaf, and it is the symbol on my country's flag.

2) The only rails here are the remnants of the train rails in the ship's cargo hold from when it was a train ferry. They don't go anywhere.

Danlabss1 karma

Im assuming you have WiFi on that ship of yours, if so, is it only for crew?

StarGateGeek2 karma

Yes, and yes. We have somewhat limited bandwidth that can be pretty sluggish at times, but it's better than nothin.

Scoxxicoccus1 karma

Does your organization have any plans to deliver reproductive services and abortions off the coast of the US? This may be required along the gulf coast sooner than previously expected.

If not, why not?

StarGateGeek6 karma

That's not really something Mercy Ships does, our women's health program focuses on surgical interventions like obstetric fistula repair (an injury incurred during prolonged labour) and fibroid removal.

Cystoscope11 karma

Where does the funding for it come from?

StarGateGeek2 karma

Corporate & private donors, and the volunteers.

fenian_ghirl1 karma

What type of experience do you recommend to a newly qualified RN to take on a challenging overseas position like yours?

StarGateGeek2 karma

I worked in a general surgery inpatient setting for 2.5 years before coming, and I think I was reasonably well equipped for the kind of work that was expected of me.

herefortheparty01-15 karma

When can y’all come back and give free surgeries to the poor here?

StarGateGeek24 karma

Here...as in Canada?

We already do that, bud.

herefortheparty01-29 karma

No, it’s paid for by taxes. It’s not free. Only free to the end user if he or she doesn’t pay into the system. I wanna see free free. Like those peeps are getting. As in having another country pay for my healthcare.

bloatedplutocrat4 karma

Looks like her organization isn't paid for by taxes but rather charitable donations.

(PDF warning) https://www.mercyships.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/MSUS-AR-2017-F-rev-051218-FIN-spreads-v2.pdf

Couldn't find anything about tax dollars going towards it but my google skills aren't the best so glad to read a primary source about that if you've got one.

StarGateGeek3 karma

Good digging. AFAIK all our funding comes from corporate and private donors, in addition to the volunteers themselves who pay to be here.