How Global Volunteers Work Together to Manage the World’s Largest NGO Hospital Ship

For over four decades, Mercy Ships has operated some of the world’s largest NGO hospital ships providing completely free surgical care to patients onboard. In fact, in May 2019 the organization celebrated its 100,000th free surgical procedure.

But how does a hospital onboard a ship operate as successfully as medical facilities on land? The simple answer is a team of passionate volunteers who bring the organization’s vision to life.

To start, Mercy Ships looks within its own network to find the most experienced talent – those who are both familiar with life onboard a hospital ship and who are driven to embody the organization’s mission, ensuring a quality crew and patient experience every step of the way. Here, two key leaders responsible for the ship’s day-to-day functions talk about their unique roles onboard and the dedicated crew who make the mission of Mercy Ships possible.  

Dr. Peter Linz, Mercy Ships International Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Peter Linz treating a patient

Dr. Linz is no stranger to an operating room or a hospital ship, having spent most of his career as a cardiologist in the U.S. Navy caring for military members and civilians around the world.

“Like any medical establishment, it’s a lot of work,” said Dr. Linz of his work onboard. “As a result of communication and the shared vision of the organization and each volunteer, we are able to make it work.”

His background and years of service as a long-term volunteer have prepared Dr. Linz to be the International Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Ships, a role where he is responsible for many duties similar to that of a hospital on land. Dr. Linz oversees the set-up and build-out of the ship’s hospital ward and internal organizational structure, medical quality management, medical research, and occupational health programs — all of which come with a unique set of challenges within a floating hospital. Dr. Linz’s biggest responsibility, however, is considering the big picture – focusing on the needs of current patients while also determining which countries need the help of Mercy Ships next.

Beyond these day-to-day responsibilities, Dr. Linz acts as a medical advisor to help direct the organization under even the most unpredictable circumstances. Currently, he is helping teams on the ground define and navigate how Mercy Ships will re-introduce Africa Mercy into service amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the unorthodox circumstances in which Dr. Linz operates for Mercy Ships, it’s the community of volunteers, however, that have surprised Dr. Linz the most. 

“It’s a beautiful community to be a part of, especially coming from a hospital background,” said Dr. Linz. “Nobody’s trying to get rich onboard, and a lot of the bureaucratic factors you encounter in a hospital have been stripped away. We’re all here to share our talents in their purest form – to change lives.” 

Hospital Director, Nate Claus

Nate Claus speaking to local African officials

While Dr. Linz is busy overseeing the structure and programs of the ships, the organization still needs a leader to conduct surgeries and training      while providing guidance for the organization’s programmatic efforts. Enter long-term volunteer and Hospital Director, Nate Claus. 

With nearly fifteen years as a volunteer with the organization, Claus has since risen through the ranks. He started as an ICU nurse with Mercy Ships and now leads the team of hospital volunteers including surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals who provide lifechanging and lifesaving care for those in need. In this new administrative role, he’s also responsible for the hospital’s quality assurance and quality improvement programs – ensuring Mercy Ships is delivering the highest standard of care – along with medical volunteer retention and executing the hospital’s programmatic goals. 

Beyond his day-to-day responsibilities, Claus’ focus has been centered around building a team that can effectively work side by side. Mercy Ships volunteers represent more than 50 nations, resulting in varying backgrounds, cultures, nationalities and languages working together on the ship. This typically isn’t the case in a land-based hospital, where local workers comprise the staff. Therefore, Claus must ensure all volunteers work together to accomplish the same goal and bring the organization’s mission to life. 

“A high priority for me as the Hospital Director is crew care,” said Claus. “Because Mercy Ships is volunteer based, the normal incentives you’d find in a traditional hospital setting don’t really exist onboard. Because of this, I find it absolutely critical to ensure a healthy environment for all volunteers.” 

In the end, both men affirm that managing the technical aspects of a floating hospital has it’s unique needs, but argue the real differentiator is within the volunteers themselves and the miracles which are made possible by managing a team that seamlessly works together for the same goal. 

“I’m passionate about the work I’m doing with Mercy Ships because it’s success is evident by God’s will,” said Dr. Linz. “It’s not a simple operation to run and frankly, it shouldn’t work as well as it does. However, the shared vision and communication by all of our volunteers keeps us functioning.” 

“Nobody is getting paid to be onboard and be a part of these surgeries, and there’s no additional blockades – such as insurance – that medical professionals typically encounter in a hospital on land,” Dr. Linz continued. “It’s the purest form of providing care and changing lives.” 

To which Claus agreed: “The people make this organization work.” 

For those interested in learning more about volunteering with Mercy Ships, visit our website

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