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Senior paediatric surgery nurse Gabrielle Dent discusses her time volunteering with Mercy Ships

Gabrielle Dent with colleagues standing in front of the African Mercy ship.

I have worked for two periods of service as a Nurse on the current hospital ship the Africa Mercy.

The ship is invited by countries, mainly in West Africa, to come for a 10 month period to work with them for transformational change that will last long after the ship has gone. The hospital covers most of Deck 3 and is divided into quadrants containing supplies/services, five operating theatres, recovery, intensive care and 80 ward beds. The crew are volunteers, who provide their own funding and live in a community of 450 persons on board the ship. All surgical intervention and care is given free of charge to those who are treated. This includes maxillo-facial, plastic reconstructive surgeries, obstetric fistula, ophthalmic care, particularly cataracts, orthopaedic correction and surgeries, and dental treatment.

Mercy Ships works with local partners to renovate existing infrastructures and provides new equipment that enhances the care they can give to local people. Most importantly they have Medical Capacity building programmes to improve the local healthcare system by offering training to local medical/nursing professionals. Being part of this amazing team requires ability to work effectively with others in a cross cultural environment, and sensitivity to the languages and cultural diversity of the patients and local Day Crew we work with. With a high turn over of staff along side the core team who are there for the whole field service, I needed to be willing to teach and share my clinical knowledge with new team members.  The minimum commitment for a nurse is 8 weeks, though Alumni can just come for 4 weeks. We work a 40 hour week with additional shifts as needed. It is a privilege to be part of not only providing much needed surgical intervention and the subsequent rehabilitation, but also to see transformational change they hope to leave behind. This includes the mentoring of anaesthetists, surgeons, nurses and other Team Leaders; Biomedical training, WHO Checklist training, Ponsetti Clinic set up, nutritional agriculture, and the goal of making safe  surgery an integral part globally. 

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