International Nurses Day marks the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and is celebrated by nurses across the globe. Like Florence Nightingale, Mercy Ships’ volunteer nurses also do something extraordinary – they give up their time to volunteer on the world’s largest civilian hospital ship.
Run by Mercy Ships, the Africa Mercy is a state of the art hospital ship which offers free medical care and humanitarian aid to some of the world’s poorest people. In the last 35 years nurses from all over the UK have volunteered with Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing to thousands of patients in third world countries.
The ship is currently docked in Madagascar where over 90% of the population live on less than 75p a day. In the last 30 years more than 20,000 nurses from around the world have volunteered with Mercy Ships.
Elizabeth Chitty, volunteer ward nurse, said: “Being a nurse on board is like rediscovering why you became a nurse in the first place. Most of us become nurses because we want to help people get better so they can carry on with their lives and maybe even help them lead better healthier lives.
“Nursing on the ship in Africa involves much of the same activities as nursing the UK or whichever country we come from but the bigger picture is very different. We don’t just take medical histories from patients, we listen to their stories. We laugh with them and we cry with them but most of all we love them just as they know that they will leave the ship changed by their surgery – it’s so exciting to be part of that process.
“As nurses we see the patients at their most vulnerable, in pain after surgery but we also get to rejoice as the possibilities of what it means to be healed start to sink in as the suffering they felt before turns to hope for a better future.
“These are the poorest of the poor, no one needs hope more than them. Nursing on the Africa Mercy has made me a better nurse in more ways than one and I hope that wherever I work, I can take that passion to serve the worlds forgotten poor and apply it to my patient care whoever that patient might be.”
Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director of Mercy Ships UK, said: “Mercy Ships simply would not be able to carry on with the work that we do if not for the dedicated nurses, like Elizabeth, who give up their time to volunteer. Mercy Ships requires around 750 nurses to volunteer each year and the dedication and commitment of those nurses who volunteer is admired and cherished. We would like to thank each one for all their hard work.”
International Nurses Day is an opportunity to celebrate nursing and the contribution nurses make, improving the lives of individuals and their families, the health and wellbeing of whole communities and the wider population across the world.