Medical professional holding a globe

Medical Mission Trips with Mercy Ships

Get an In-Depth Look at Mercy Ships and the Medical Volunteer Opportunities They Provide Around the World

Medical professional holding a globe

Medical mission trips are a unique and practical way for healthcare professionals and students to volunteer their time and talent in service to the world’s poor. These trips commonly range from one to four weeks in duration, although some, like those featured in this article, can last much longer. Medical missions are a great way to gain valuable, hands-on healthcare experience and open your eyes to how medicine is practiced all over the world.

(Click here to see our full list of the best medical mission trips and volunteer opportunities)

The organizations that arrange medical mission trips can be huge, multi-national operations, while others can be much smaller, local efforts. Mercy Ships is one of the larger organizations. They provide humanitarian aid in the form of life-changing surgical services, healthcare clinics, community development projects, community health education, and agriculture projects. Their signature effort is two hospital ships that travel to port cities of impoverished nations to provide medical and dental care free of charge to those in need.

What is Mercy Ships?

Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships is a non-profit, interdenominational Christian charity. As a 501(c)(3) organization, Mercy Ships provides aid to people in need in locations all around the world. Their most visible operations are their two hospital ships, Africa Mercy and Global Mercy. Why hospital ships? Because with more than 50% of the world’s population living near a coastline, Mercy Ships can provide state-of-the-art surgical care to far more people than they can with exclusively land-based efforts.

But there’s more to Mercy Ships than floating hospitals. While docked in their host countries. Mercy Ships invests in local healthcare infrastructure to renovate and equip existing medical facilities as well as train local medical personnel. Their goal is to provide a lasting, positive impact long after the hospital ship leaves port.

Mercy Ships Mission Statement

Following the 2000-year-old model of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor by mobilizing people and resources worldwide, and serving all people without regard for race, gender or religion.

Where Does Mercy Ships Serve?

Over the years, Mercy Ships have made 592 ports of call in 55 developing nations and 18 developed nations around the world.  Their primary focus has been on the continent of Africa, but Mercy Ships will send aid elsewhere when needed, as they did after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Africa Mercy Just recently served over a year in the port of Dakar, Senegal. The ship is currently receiving maintenance in the nearby Canary Islands and will soon return to Dakar to resume its mission there. Their most-recently commissioned ship, World Mercy, is currently undergoing deep water trials and will begin its first mission to Liberia in Sub-Saharan Africa – for which volunteers will be needed – in 2022.

What Kinds of Medical Professionals Does Mercy Ships Need?

Mercy Ships has both long-term and short-term opportunities for professional medical volunteers. Because of the long-duration nature of each ship’s mission, Mercy Ships currently has a greater number of long-term openings (longer than one year) than short-term openings.

Opportunities for medical professionals change regularly, but at the time this article was written, the short-term volunteer openings included those for:

  • Operating Room Nurses
  • PACU Nurses
  • Ward Nurses (Adult and Pediatric ICU)
  • Wound Care Team Nurses
  • Physical Therapists
  • Radiology Technologists
  • Sterile Processing Technicians

Medical professional holding a syringe

Mercy Ships Volunteer Requirements

To ensure the safety of staff, crew, fellow volunteers, and patients, all volunteers must undergo background and criminal checks before being approved to join the mission.

Additionally, all volunteers are required to understand and speak English. Vaccination requirements for the medical staff include inoculations for:

  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • MMR
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria
  • Tuberculosis testing

All medical volunteers are professionals in their field, so there are no opportunities for nursing students with Mercy Ships. All volunteer nursing positions are available to registered nurses only, with certain exceptions made for nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners.

What Benefits Does Mercy Ships Provide?

Housing for individual medical volunteers includes small but cozy cabins with bathrooms that you’ll share with your other cabin-mates. Families are housed in their own cabins. All cabins are air-conditioned and equipped with Wi-Fi. Three meals a day are served aboard ship and the crew also has access to an onboard convenience store, a snack bar, and even a Starbucks Café.

Other amenities include an onboard swimming pool, laundry room, hair salon, bank, post office, weight room, a lending library with movies and board games, and a clinic for medical and dental care. For volunteer families with children, Mercy Ships also provides a daycare facility and an accredited school for students K through 12.

You may bring your own scrubs, but Mercy Ships will provide and launder scrubs for medical personnel.

International travel comes with certain risks. Mercy Ships seeks to minimize those risks and maximize the safety of all aboard ship by maintaining a team of experienced security officers who are on duty and patrol the ship 24/7.

What Expenses Am I Required To Cover?

There are a number of expenses that are the responsibility of the volunteer to cover for the duration of your time with Mercy Ships. These expenses include:

  • Crew fees
  • Passport fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal expenses
  • Toiletries
  • Socializing and off-ship entertainment

Crew Fees help cover operational expenses aboard ship. These monthly fees maximize the impact of charitable donation, so Mercy Ships can apply 75% of total donations directly toward program expenses like patient surgery. Crew fees begin at $400/month but can be reduced for volunteers who:

  • Make longer service commitments
  • Have previously completed On Boarding training
  • Do not live/have citizenship in “high income” nations as defined by the World Bank

Woman in scrubs forming a heart with her hands

How to Get Started

Like all medical mission trips, the application process with Mercy Ships is a multi-step process that will take a while to complete. The first step begins with visiting their website to become familiar with the organization’s overall mission, learn what life is like aboard ship, discover the available opportunities, and begin the application process.

The application process with Mercy Ships begins with finding the role that interests you the most and clicking the button below the description to apply for it. You’ll want to include your CV/resume and any relevant licensure and certificates. Once completed, your application will  be reviewed, and you may be asked to conduct an online video interview or two to determine if Mercy Ships is a good match for you. Once the position and your availability align, there will be some details to finalize, and then you’ll receive an acceptance letter with the details of your assignment.

Click here to learn more about Mercy Ships.

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