Anaesthetist Dr Michael McBrien

I’ve served as an anaesthetist on board the Mercy Ship nine times. Each time I’ve volunteered for two or three weeks, and four times since the documentary was filmed in Madagascar.

Why I volunteer with Mercy Ships. 

Back in September 2010 I was invited to give a lecture on one aspect of anaesthetic management of hip fractures at a national anaesthetic meeting in Yorkshire.  I saw a Mercy Ships ‘trade stand’ in the exhibition hall. What made me want to serve with them was firstly that they were a Christian organisation, and secondly that their model consisted of bringing medical skills and techniques from high income countries and delivering these free of charge to patients in middle/low income countries.  I went home and looked up the web site, clicked on ‘volunteer’, and eight months later I arrived in Sierra Leone for my first trip to serve.

My most impacting experience

The beauty about volunteering on board is that my professional skills and training merge with my Christian purpose in life in a way that is totally unique.  And I guess that applies to just about every surgeon, nurse, anaesthetist or ward doctor on board, and to everyone from the teachers to the mechanics, from the IT team to the HR team.

The most impacting experience in Madagascar was the relationship built up among the nine Northern Ireland crew members who coincided to be on board for filming.  We still meet up regularly with many who were there at that time.

Professionally, each patients I look after on board leaves a special imprint on my life; some small, some large, some will never be forgotten.  Each patient I had the opportunity to care for was memorable, from the youngest child of three months to the oldest adult, aged around 60.

Lalao was a challenging anaesthetic and surgical case, the young boy with the deformed hand was such a beautiful kid and so engaging, but the most difficult by far was the young child with the cleft lip and palate.

It was when I was being interviewed about the child with the cleft lip and palate in the OR corridor, explaining the difference this would make to the child’s life, and how they might question in the future what it was that caused the Africa Mercy and the crew to come all the way to Madagascar to provide that care, that the enormity of what we do really hit home.  And to be part of that child’s journey in life, even in a tiny way by providing anaesthesia for a few hours, makes the whole venture so special.

The biggest takeaway from my time onboard

I think this has to be the beauty of serving with a team of Christian volunteers in bringing hope and healing through extravagant love, using the model of Jesus – and doing so in such a way that disarms every single and possible criticism of mission. This is largely because what we deliver is completely unconditional of race, colour, creed or gender.

To be part of such a purpose driven community, even for a few weeks a year, is a lifetime privilege.  It is the unique experience of the fellowship with other Christians from 40 other countries in the world. It’s the worship of living out our faith in such a practical way, being inspired and influenced by the life and faith of others on board. The support given and received by each crew member to another, makes life on board so special.

“I will never forget the wonderful experience of working with a different team of nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists in theatres each day, made up of skilled volunteers from all over the world, committed to serving each other and each patient, and doing so with such love, cooperation and excellence.

My time on-board the Africa Mercy has made me realise what wonderful skills that my training and 28 years of experience in the health service has given me, and how fulfilling it is to use these skills on a voluntary basis to help other, less fortunate, people in poorer countries.

Can you wash dishes, scrub floors or make salads? Are you a mariner or a medic with a heart for the vulnerable? There’s a place for you onboard.

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships