Surgeon, researcher, AND American Ninja Warrior?

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Mark Shrime, ENT surgeon me

Meet Mark Shrime. This ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor heard about Mercy Ships back in 2006 through a friend of a friend. In-between fellowships, he decided to apply. “I was accepted, spent six months on the ship in Liberia and have been coming back ever since!”

Twice a year, Dr. Shrime presses “pause from his day job as Research Director for the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard Medical School to meet up with the Africa Mercy – wherever it’s docked (currently Benin). “It’s honestly the two months out of the year that really center me. My career has been about the delivery of surgery in low-income countries, most of it from a research and policy standpoint. To be here on the ground doing the things I’m writing about and talking about and studying – it really does remind me why I do what I do the rest of the time.”

So what does “the rest of the time” really look like? Part of it includes what Shrime refers to as “A beautiful collaborative effort”: the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery. In 2014, the Lancet, a UK-based medical journal, decided to look at the current state of surgery in low and middle-income countries and set goals for where it should be by 2030. “This team of commissioners, advisors, researchers, etc. (composed of people from 111 different countries), were united around a tenet that what the world deserves is universal access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care, when needed. And those four things – availability, safety, affordability and timeliness – really define access to any health intervention, not just surgery. It turns out that five billion people around the world don’t have that sort of access to surgery. There may be an operating room, but it might not be safe. There may be a safe operating room, but you might not be able to afford it or get to it in time. That is one of the difficulties of ‘fixing’ surgery in countries – you can’t fix surgery by simply building more operating rooms, or by simply training surgeons. To fix surgery, you’ve got to fix everything – you’ve got to fix the electricity, the suction, the water, the training, the biomed technology, the infrastructure – it’s a really difficult thing to do, and it’s probably one of the reasons surgery hasn’t been focused on…but if you can do all that, fix all these things in a hospital, you’ve also fixed the electricity and the water and the suction and the sterilization in the hospital itself – and in theory, this is a good way then to scale up and fix an entire health system.”

Wow. So is there any spare time outside of all this? Apparently. When Shrime isn’t researching and performing surgery, he’s staying fit. Years ago, he got serious about health after realizing he wasn’t getting any slimmer (he has a sweet tooth). What started as a rock-climbing hobby morphed into a love for obstacle races. Suddenly, on a whim, he tried out for the TV show American Ninja Warrior – and was accepted! “I made it about half-way through the course, then lost my balance and fell. But those two minutes of the run were the most fun I’ve ever had!” Though his first round didn’t actually air on television, never fear – Shrime is working and training to reach a new goal…American Ninja Warrior’s national finals…he even finds creative ways to work out on the ship!

Does one actually require ninja skills to survive on the Africa Mercy? Not according to Shrime: “I love the people I work with – it’s not just a hospital – this is very much a family, a group of friends. We eat together, go out together, play games together – and then we’re also in the middle of the OR at 1:00 am in the morning working together. It’s not your usual hospital…you don’t find this sort of camaraderie, this sort of brotherhood and sisterhood in a lot of places that I’ve worked. It feels very much like medicine – the way it’s supposed to be.”

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