From Hospital Ship to the Front Lines of COVID-19

Nurse Anna Goggans poses with a patient before the last discharges of the Guinea field service.

In the wake of COVID-19, the call for essential workers is greater than ever and each person serving has a story about how they ended up on the frontlines of a global pandemic.

For U.S.-based crisis relief nurse Anna Goggans and U.K.-based anesthesiologist Dr. Michelle White, their stories shifted from volunteering with Mercy Ships where they provided life saving surgeries and medical care to the world’s forgotten poor onboard hospital ships in Africa – to being front and center of COVID-19 relief efforts, implementing

the expanded skillset they gained while serving as a volunteer to guide their current work and daily practice.

After departing Africa and in response to the surging pandemic crisis in New York City, Goggans served as an ICU crisis relief nurse at North Central Bronx Hospital, and quickly realized that her experience with Mercy Ships made her an asset to her team and a good servant to her patients. “One blessing that came out of my time on the ship was my experience using specific equipment and following certain protocols which then prepared me for my role in New York. For example, we used a specific model of ventilators on the ship that ended up being the same ones we had access to in the Bronx ICU. Which is crazy because no one knew how to operate them except for me. So, it is really interesting how God plays a role in preparing you for the next thing He wants you to do,” Goggans recalls.

Dr. White has taken on a different focus during the pandemic while caring for children suffering from heart disease at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, England. As a pediatric consultant anesthesiologist, Dr. White’s team has supported and collaborated with other hospitals to make room for more adult care while also seeing positive results come out of the pandemic for her child patients.

Dr. Michelle White

“Considering children haven’t been hit as badly as adults with coronavirus, we pivoted to connecting with other hospitals in our area to share a large part of our resources including equipment, doctors and other healthcare workers,” White said.

She then explained how her team increased services to take in children from areas of London, allowing other area hospitals to make more room for adult patients suffering from COVID-19. Additionally, due to the pandemic, Dr. White’s team has been fortunate enough to increase heart transplants for their patients in need.

 “The pandemic has allowed us to conduct more than half a year’s worth of heart transplants on our child patients in need, so it’s also been incredibly moving and satisfying to be able to increase our transplant activity and save the lives of these children because of the pandemic,” White said.

Both Goggans and Dr. White have reflected on how serving as a volunteer with Mercy Ships made an impact on the healthcare professionals they are today and prepared them to face the current challenges the pandemic poses within their industry.

For Goggans, Mercy Ships not only taught her how to be creative, but also how to remain positive and focused on being a team player. She learned to be comfortable in situations where she may not have had access to everything she needed and used critical thinking to complete her tasks at hand.

Nurse, Anna Goggans, spends time with her patient on deck 7.

“I learned to have a ‘go-with-the-flow’ mentality with a servant’s heart and to be willing to do whatever – even if it’s not your job description or what you signed up to do. My experience definitely prepared my heart in that way and I was so grateful for that – because I really did feel prepared going to New York. I was in a very healthy mindset because of Mercy Ships,” Goggans said.

For Dr. White, her previous Mercy Ships experience prepared her to work in an environment where many high-income healthcare systems are forced to make difficult decisions about surgery restrictions due to the large patient capacities they’re experiencing from the pandemic.

“In England we’re privileged to have free healthcare that’s available at anyone’s point of need. However, you’re seeing health professionals who are having to ration to a certain extent what surgeries we do because of the pandemic. We’re having to prioritize in a way that we’ve never had to do before. So now there’s this huge backlog, and professionals are

having to make daily decisions over who we’re going to put on the operating list next week, who can wait six more weeks, and people who have already been waiting six weeks deciding if they can wait even more,” White explained. “So, I think having worked with Mercy Ships in Africa – where you’re faced with those kinds of decisions everyday – certainly has given me a bit more resilience in facing and being a part of that decision-making process. Because it’s something you’ve seen and experienced before, and I’ve developed some sorts of coping strategies for it because the demand for surgery is so great in Africa.”

Outside of serving on the frontlines of the pandemic, both Goggans and Dr. White confirm the life changing impact volunteering with Mercy Ships has provided. Not only did their time on the ship expand their professional skillsets, but it also provided them with a new perspective on life. For Goggans, having a solid support system across the world through her Mercy Ships network has brought her peace, while Dr. White views the world as an opportunity for togetherness.

“My faith has definitely been pulling me through this time, and honestly my friends from Mercy Ships, because they’re all nurses and we’re all in different parts of the world…we’ve been able to keep in contact and share our experiences. Having that solidarity is so important. Because we have our nursing profession and our faith in common, so having that close-knit community has just been pivotal,”Goggans stated.

“When you’ve been a volunteer you’ve chosen to walk a slightly different walk to what other people have maybe chosen, and it just allows you to have experiences in a deeper way that charts your eyes to lift them directly off your own self, and your own vision, and ambition for your life, and to instead partner with other people for a bigger goal,” states White.

“You know, Mercy Ships is all about volunteers coming together to serve other people in Africa knowing that we can’t serve them alone, and that’s what God’s kingdom is all about. It’s about people pulling together to serve a greater purpose, and to look to one another and to help each other out to show what we’ve got. There’s a tremendous sense of achievement in teamwork when you work together, which is actually far more satisfying than achieving on your own. There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together,” White shares.

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with Mercy Ships or supporting volunteers in the future, visit here for more information.

Click to gain access to Mercy Ships Media Room