Nurses play a crucial role on our hospital ships

On board each hospital ship, hundreds of nurses volunteer every year in the operating theatres, wards and the auxiliary services that provide a complete surgical package – from admission to rehabilitation – for people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

We’ve got a challenge for you – but say yes and your courage and compassion will change lives and bring essential surgery to sub-Saharan Africa. We need volunteers willing to spend a couple of weeks or a few months or more on board, caring for our crew and patients.  Can you come with us?

The nursing experience of a lifetime awaits the brave and compassionate who have a heart for adventure.

If you are looking for an inspiring mission to invest your professional skills and personal experience in, volunteering on board may be your next adventure.

Maybe you have long service leave due and you can volunteer for a few months, or perhaps you want to use your holiday time for good. Join the 600+ nurses every year from all over the world who are making a life-transforming difference by using their nursing skills to help serve the marginalised, with Mercy Ships.

If you have two years’ nursing experience and have the heart to help the vulnerable, then volunteering on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ships may be the next fabulous career move you make. See the range of nursing opportunities and the job descriptions here.

The hospital ships’ operating theatres, wards and ICU are state-of-the-art, and the equipment and medications are familiar for those working in a New Zealand or OECD health care context.

But don’t take our word for it; watch the video above, and see for yourself what kind of impact volunteering with Mercy Ships with makes.

Nursing role details:

  • Scope of work: Includes inpatient surgical care for both adults and children.
  • Minimum volunteer period: 4 weeks
  • Requirements: Currently registered and practicing, with 2 years of experience in the specified role. 

Nursing opportunities on board:

Crew Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 10 Months

Operating Theater Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 wks+

Outpatients Nurse Team Leader

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 Years

PACU Nurse (Recovery Room)

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 Weeks

Paediatric ICU Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 8 Weeks

Paediatric Ward Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 8 Weeks

Preoperative Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 Years

Ward Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 8 Weeks

Wound Care Nurse

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 8 Weeks

All Nurse Roles

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 8 weeks – 2 Years


No, all scrubs and equipment are provided by the ship.

Schedules vary depending on where you work. Ward and ICU nurses work rotating shifts, which will include nights and weekends. Operating Room staff and other ship-based teams tend to work weekdays, day shifts. Some days may be long.

Teams that work primarily off-ship, including Dental, Eye, and Palliative Care team members work Monday through Friday. These teams are usually in a hot environment and travel to and from their locations each day.

Nurses can expect to work approximately 10 shifts in every 2-week period and receive one weekend off every two weeks. All shifts are about eight hours, including weekend shifts. Nurses will work a mixture of day and evening shifts, with 4-5 night shifts in a 4-week period and night duty is expected of all ward nurses. Shift times are as follows:

Day: 7:00 am – 3:00 pm

Evening: 2:00 pm – 9.30 pm

Night: 9:00 pm – 7:30 am

These shift patterns are subject to change

Ward Nurses care for 5-7 patients of varying acuity on a day or evening shift and on a night shift, nurses care for approximately 10 patients. Our Ward Nurses are vital in caring for the patients of our busy surgical ward – dealing with simple incision lines and more complicated skin graft dressings, surgical drains, NG tubes, urinary catheters, IV fluids, IV antibiotics, nasopharyngeal airways and occasionally tracheostomies. Upon arrival, nurses are given the opportunity to tell us how comfortable they are with certain skills, which is taken into consideration when we assign patients.

Our ICU Nurses care for ventilated and critically ill patients.

Students often ask to join Mercy Ships as an elective session or to get exposure/experience in a developing country, but regrettably we are unable to accommodate these requests. The majority of the positions in the hospital require a current license and we do not have personnel or bed space on board currently to facilitate these opportunities.

  • All volunteers must be over 18 to join, must be in good health with a BMI <35, and be aware of both the physical demands of living on board and in Africa, as well as any physical demands of the role for which they want to join. For example, our volunteers may be required to sleep in a bunk-bed, sharing a cabin with other volunteers of the same gender.
  • The ship has multiple decks, and crew members could climb about 30 flights of stairs per day.
  • A married person can serve up to three months without their spouse. 


Mercy Ships is an international humanitarian organisation based on Christian values. Our mission is to improve access to health care in low-income nations. 

By deploying the world’s two largest non-governmental hospital ships, the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy, Mercy Ships works with host countries to help them improve their health care systems.

Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from over 60 nations donate their time and resources to support the Mercy Ships vision.

Mercy Ships’ surgical specialties include maxillofacialplastic reconstructiveorthopaedic, ophthalmic, general, and gynecological (obstetric fistula) surgery.

Simultaneously, we provide training and mentoring to upskill local health professionals, strengthening the host nation’s health care capacity. 

I love talking to people about finding their fit on board, and I’m here to answer your questions about volunteering.