Close this search box.

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists play vital roles on board our hospital ships

Are you ready for a reset? Do you want to reconnect with why you trained to be a physio or OT in the first place?

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

Our surgeons are the first to say that surgery is only half the answer to the conditions Mercy Ships corrects. 

Mercy Ships physical therapists work with post-surgical patients to gain maximum function before they are discharged home –  where there is no local follow-up available.  Patients of all ages receive life-transforming procedures that impact their whole family and open whole new possibilities for the future. 

Can you come with us?

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

It's the kind of physiotherapy you've always dreamed of!

Physiotherapists and hand therapists with at least two years’ experience volunteer for at least three months on board while the hospital ships are in field service in sub-Saharan Africa. Care focuses on rehabilitation after paediatric orthopaedic and burns reconstructive surgery. 

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 rehabilitation team from all over the world who are making a life-transforming difference by using their physical therapy skills to help serve the marginalised, with Mercy Ships.

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

The hospital ships’ rehabilitation clinic equipment and procedures are familiar to those working in a New Zealand or OECD health care context.

Physiotherapy role details

Known as a physical therapist on board, the role takes care of pre and post-operative patients.

You will have direct patient participation in selected tasks to restore, reinforce, and enhance performance; facilitate the learning of skills and functions essential for adaptation and productivity, correct pathology, and promote and maintain health.

Minimum volunteer period: 3 months

Requirements: Currently registered, with an active licence and experience of at least two years. 

Experience with surgical and musculoskeletal patients is preferred. 

Physical therapy opportunities on board


Preferred Minimum Commitment: 3 months

(Physical therapist)

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 wks

Rehabilitation Team Leader

Preferred Minimum Commitment: 2 years


On the Africa Mercy there are 5 operating theatres supported by 82 ward and ICU beds. On the Global Mercy there are 6 operating theatres supported by 208 ward and ICU beds.

Each hospital ship is self-sufficient, and all the required allied health care services are provided on board eg laboratory, radiology, physiotherapy.

About half of the Africa Mercy‘s 460 crew and the Global Mercy‘s  640 crew fill medical roles.

Mercy Ships provides many types of surgeries, and the specialties most often served by the Rehab Team are paediatric orthopaedics and plastic reconstruction for burns.

Other specialties provided are:

  • General (Adults)
  • General (Paediatric)
  • Ophthalmic
  • Oral Maxillofacial & ENT Head & Neck
  • Urogynecologic

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

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

  • 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.