Mercy Ships Looks to the Future with New International Chief Medical Officer

Mercy Ships is excited to welcome a new International Chief Medical Officer to the helm during an exciting new season for the organization — and for Africa.

Dr. Mark Shrime has been serving on board the Africa Mercy® twice a year as a volunteer head and neck surgeon since 2008. He’s also been the Otolaryngology Specialty consultant since 2016.

“Mark’s personality, background, and extensive experience within global surgery make him the right candidate as the leader for this strategic role within Mercy Ships,” said Mercy Ships CEO Gert van de Weerdhof.

Dr. Shrime will be based out of the Mercy Ships headquarters in Texas, but he’ll also work regularly on the Africa Mercy, the Global Mercy®, and on the ground in Africa.

“To overcome injustice and inequity in health, safe, affordable, and timely surgical care must be an indispensable part of any healthcare system,” Dr. Shrime said. “I look forward to working even more closely with the dedicated professionals in Mercy Ships, and in the countries with which we partner, to decrease the burden of unmet surgical need and to improve outcomes for patients.”

Prepared to Lead the Way

Dr. Shrime’s background uniquely positions him for this important role.

He received his MD from the University of Texas in 2001. Medical school was followed by a residency at the joint Columbia/Cornell program in Manhattan, and two fellowships — first in head and neck surgical oncology, then in microvascular reconstructive surgery — at the University of Toronto.

He went on to earn a master’s in global health and a PhD in health policy, both from Harvard University.

Besides his work with Mercy Ships, Dr. Shrime is a lecturer in Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

He’s also served as: O’Brien Chair of Global Surgery, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; Founder and Director, Center for Global Surgery Evaluation at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary; Research Director, Harvard Program in Global Surgery and Social Change

‘What I’ve Been Training For’

While he was building an impressive resume all those years, Dr. Shrime said something was always missing.

“For the 15 years of my training, I really didn’t like what I was doing,” he recalled. “Genuinely hated being a doctor.”

Then in 2008, Dr. Shrime boarded the Africa Mercy and walked down the stairs to the hospital.

“I took a right-hand turn off those stairs into D ward and was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been training for 15 years to do,’” he said.

One patient, in particular, stands out to Dr. Shrime from those early years: Emmanoel, a 3-year-old in the Republic of the Congo. He was having difficulty breathing, and doctors found a mass on the roof of his mouth, obstructing his airway.

Emmanoel’s father worked at the port. When he found out a hospital ship was coming, he bought a calendar. The family marked off the days until the Africa Mercy’s arrival in 2013.

When Emmanoel went to the patient screening, his breathing was so labored that the others in line passed him over the fence so he could be seen first.

“We took him to the operating room the second day of operating in Congo,” Dr. Shrime remembered. “Took out the mass, reconstructed his palate. He did beautifully.”

Dr. Shrime keeps a photo of Emmanoel. In it, he’s holding up a sign that says,

“Hey Mark! I’m all better!!”

Looking Ahead

Dr. Shrime assumes the role of International Chief Medical Officer during a historic time for Mercy Ships. A brand new, purpose-built hospital ship, the Global Mercy, is getting ready to offer surgeries. A doubled fleet will soon provide twice the capacity for surgeries and training. And that training, Dr. Shrime said, will be crucial in the countries where Mercy Ships serves.

“The burden of disease is so large, and the number of surgeons is so small,” he said.

Studies show that many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have fewer than one surgeon per 100,000 people.

Dr. Shrime believes that one key solution is to be part of building the surgical ecosystem in the countries that host Mercy Ships. Without an intact surgical ecosystem, “many patients just go untreated,” he says.

It’s those untreated cases that Dr. Shrime, Mercy Ships, and their African government and medical partners want to eliminate.

“This idea that, ‘Health is a human right as long as you can afford it,’ is not the world we really want to be building,” said Dr. Shrime.

To learn more about Mercy Ships International Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Shrime, watch this crew conversation on the Mercy Ships YouTube channel!