New Mercies: Dr. Shrime Part 2
mercy-ships-podcast-new-mercies-episode-24-25-doctor-mark-shrime-feature

“Solving for Why: A Surgeon’s Journey to Discover the Transformative Power of Purpose”

Dr. Mark Shrime, a volunteer surgeon with Mercy Ships, has recently published a book entitled: Solving for Why: A Surgeon’s Journey to Discover the Transformative Power of Purpose. In this thought-provoking book, Dr. Shrime shares his own journey through the medical field and his constant struggle with the desire to quit. But as Dr. Shrime began to solve for his own “why”, discovering his purpose, he started to embrace medicine and what it offers him.

While working for Mercy Ships, Mark found his “why” and shares stories of patients who have made an impact on his life. In this episode, Mark talks about his own journey to discovering his purpose and inspires others to step out of the mundane and live an intentional life.

If you are searching for your purpose in life, and feel stuck or discouraged, you won’t want to miss this conversation with Dr. Mark Shrime. 

Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a giftvolunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

Dr. Mark Shrime’s book is: “Solving for Why: A Surgeon’s Journey to Discover the Transformative Power of Purpose.” 

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to New Mercies a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week as we sit down with our crew, patients, volunteers, and partners to hear their stories of life-changing hope and healing.

Today I’m back with Dr. Mark Shrime for part two of our conversation. Mark has recently published a book entitled “Solving for Why: A Surgeons Journey to Discover the Transformative Power of Purpose.” And today, we get to hear all about it. Here is Dr. Mark Shrime.

Raeanne Newquist:

Well, I do want to dive into your book, because I have recently finished it. And it is phenomenal. Mark, you are an excellent writer. And it’s just another incredible thing to add to your already impressive resume is to be a published author. It’s your first book, it’s amazing, it is so thought-provoking. And you share some really powerful truths in it. My husband is reading it now, I am making my teenage children read it. I think it is a book you need to buy for high school graduates, for college graduates, for your friends having a midlife crises and wondering what to do next. This book is excellent. I think it’s something for a book club study for sure. Because there’s so much to chew on and so much to talk about, again, the book is called, “Solving for Why: A Surgeons Journey to Discover the Transformative Power of Purpose.” Congratulations.

Dr. Mark Shrime:

Thank you very much.

Raeanne:

And I’m gonna put a link in our show notes to the Amazon link. Everybody go buy this book, it’s awesome. Mark, tell us… Why did you write this book?

Dr. Shrime:

The short answer is because a friend of mine told me I should write a book and put me in touch with her publisher. So that’s how it kind of came to be. The path that my career has taken, has been, you know, horribly nontraditional for an American surgeon. I use this image in the book… for those of us who work in medicine — and I think in a lot of fields —we’re on a moving sidewalk. I mean, basically, from the time you decide that you’re going to go to med school, so from high school till the day that you retire, you’re basically on this as moving sidewalk that takes you from, you know, 18 to 65. And for good reason. Right medicine is a fairly well-respected field. And it’s pays well it gives you cachet, it gives you all these sorts of things. So, it’s a moving sidewalk, that will, if you stay on it, deliver one version of success.

But sometimes we get on this moving sidewalk, which is my story of get on this moving sidewalk, and you’re faced with this: this is not where I want to be, but I’ve I have no other marketable skills at this point besides being a doctor. So, what am I going to do? And that’s really what prompted this book is here for 95% of clinicians, physicians, nurses, etc. For 95% of clinicians, that moving sidewalk is just great. Like, you want to be doing that. That’s what your calling is. For some of us it’s not. And I you know, I’m a physician, so I talk a lot about healthcare in there, but I don’t think this is limited just to healthcare.

I think for a lot of us, we start on a path, we then get into whatever it is the debt, the mortgages, the children, the things and we wake up on the other side of it. And think, “Wow, where did those 30 or 40 years go?” And it’s interesting that you said what you said at the beginning, when I first started writing this book, my audience was either the like high school college grad, trying to figure out what they want to do their lives, or the midlife crisis, trying to figure out what they want to do with the second half of their lives. Right, which was me, they say, write the book that you need. And that was me too. I do think that the COVID pandemic, you know, has pushed a lot of people into that same question. You know, back in 2021, we had this Great Resignation, where more people quit their jobs than have ever quit their jobs before. How do we figure out where we’re going to land after that?

Those are the questions I wanted to ask in the book. I don’t think I have answers. I think I do more asking questions than giving answers but also just telling my own story of trying to figure this out.

Raeanne:

It’s a great catalyst, though, for people to have some time of introspection, and to ask themselves the questions that you’re asking because I think everyone’s answer is going to be different. So, in some cases, we don’t need a book that’s going to give us the answers, because I’m not a surgeon. So, your answers aren’t really applicable to me. But this idea of kind of, I kept thinking get unstuck. You know, you’re on this moving sidewalk, you’re stuck. I kind of call it the mainstream. You’re just going with the flow, and you can feel very stuck in your life. And I think your book asks some great questions. Like I said, it’s very thought-provoking, to get you to stop and kind of think, in what areas of my life am I wasting this one beautiful, precious gift I’ve been given of a life and to start thinking in a different way and challenging yourself and pushing out of that trap out of that moving sidewalk. So, Mark, how do you encourage people to step out of the mundane and into a life of purpose?

Dr. Shrime:

Even in the middle of a life of purpose, there is the mundane. You know, sometimes I think we look at the mundane parts of our lives, and we think, “Well, if there’s a lot of mundanity in my life, then clearly we aren’t living a life of purpose.” And I think that actually turns the question on its head the wrong way. More, the question is not waiting till the end of your life to sort of meet the person that you wanted to be, but to turn into that person now. I mentioned him in the book as well, a friend of mine is a firefighter, and you know, an EMT. To me, his life is tremendously exciting. I mean, he is right at the coalface saving lives and you know, putting out fires, and I asked him kind of about his day, and all the stuff that he talked about. It’s like, he literally said, “I busted my butt to get this job. And I spend most of my time doing the maintenance stuff at the firehouse.” So yeah, there is mundanity just sort of a part of life. But is that mundanity… the mundane things that you’re embroiled in… are they in the service of the person that you want to be? You know, when you meet him or her at the end of your life, or the service of the life you want to have lived? Are they in the service of this moving sidewalk? That’s just kind of taking you towards retirement?

Raeanne:

I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us as humans to find our purpose, it seems like we’re always pushing for something bigger and greater than really, the majesty and the wonder that we have right where we’re at right now.

Dr. Shrime:

That’s such a good point. I think that’s really true. You know, finding your purpose doesn’t necessarily mean blowing everything up and starting all over with some new thing. You may very well be right in the middle of your purpose. I will push back on you just a little bit, though, and say that I think sometimes for a lot of us, we’re scared of what the answer will be when we asked it, because we’re scared that we might look back and be like, “Oh, well, I’ve just spent the last 15 years doing something that I kind of knew I didn’t want to do, but I did it anyway.” So, we don’t go looking for that purpose. I suspect that for this is a completely unscientific number. But I suspect for 85% of us, if we go looking for that purpose, we’ll find it pretty close to what we’ve been doing. And then for some of us, we won’t, but I still think looking for it… going on that search is really important.

Raeanne:

Well, the cover art of your book has a ship on it. So, it kind of insinuates that Mercy Ships had something to do with your Solving for Your Why. So, tell us about that.

Dr. Shrime:

Yeah, so Mercy Ships did play a role for me in finding my Why. As we talked about last time, I came onto the ship, right at the end of my training. Between my first and second fellowship, I took some time off and came onto the ship. And for me, it really was this, as I mentioned last time, this recognition that, wow, all these skills that I’ve been gaining in, in service of what I thought was going to be a life that I wasn’t all that excited about. I could all of a sudden use those skills for life that I actually genuinely was excited about. To get back to the question of sort of mundane things. I’ve mentioned this in the book. The operations that I do on the ship are to a large degree really similar to the operations that I was doing when I was in full-time practice in the U.S. So, the day-to-day, there are some differences. But the sort of the germ, the center of the day-to-day is exactly the same. It’s just now it’s in service of something that truly kind of sets me on fire.

Raeanne:

Hmm, that’s awesome. Well, in your book, you talk about a patient named Andrew, tell us about him and why he made such a big impact on you.

Dr. Shrime:

Andrew is a patient that I met in Liberia. So, 2008… feels like a long, long time ago now. Andrew has albinism, his skin is bright whites. So already, by nature of the fact that he was born with this sort of genetic defect that causes the cells that produce pigment in his skin not to produce the pigment. He’s ostracized, right? He looks different from everyone, so he’s going to be shunned a bit. The problem also with albinism is that the cells that produce melanin, the pigment in the skin, a large part of role of that, that pigment is to protect us from the sun’s radiation. Without that pigment without that protection, then the sun It causes skin cancer. And that’s what happens to a lot of patients with albinism, and happened to Andrew when I met him, he had cancer that was growing off right at the crook, right where his neck and his shoulder meet on the left side. The thing about Andrew and the thing about a lot of the patients that we meet on the ship is that you can look at them in a couple of different ways.

You can, and as surgeons we do, look at them as surgical conditions to treat reconstructive problems to solve. There’s a tumor growing off the side of his neck, how do we get it out? How do we how do we reconstruct the defect, and we can stop there. Or we can kind of take a step back and listen to the entirety of Andrew’s story, which is a story of being shunned because of the color of his skin to begin with. Being shunned also later because the tumor, unfortunately, because it had grown so big did not smell very good. So, nobody wanted to be around him. The story of he made his living playing drums in churches, nobody wants to be around you, you’re not going to get a job playing drums in a church.

This kind of simple surgical thing is the tip of the iceberg of a whole bunch of other underpinning things and all of this… to me what’s most, what’s most memorable about Andrew and stories like his… is all of this is because of something he didn’t choose. Right. He didn’t choose to be born without melanin. He didn’t choose to be born in Liberia that you know, had was in the middle of a civil war when he was born. He didn’t choose to get cancer, all these things weren’t his choice. And yet, he was ostracized because of things that just simply weren’t his choice. And that I think is really compelling about stories like his it’s way more than just doing the surgery. It’s also hoping as much as we can with a surgeon’s knife to reverse some of these, these inequities that he didn’t sign up for any more than you and I signed up to grow up in the U.S.

Raeanne:

Well, absolutely. And it’s interesting, because in your book, you have this quote from Rashid Rashad. That says, “We sometimes think that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” And I love this quote because I feel like it really brings poverty home to us, you don’t have to go to a developing nation to encounter poverty. But the unwanted and the unloved are all around us, regardless of our socio-economic status. And you make this point when you’re talking about Andrew, because it wasn’t just the condition of his tumor that you were taking care of. But it was also the condition that he had been shunned that he had been unloved and othered, if you will, which is a concept you talk about in your book: the other. So can you tell us a little bit about the other? And I think it ties in a lot with this story and what we’re talking about.

Dr. Shrime:

Yeah, this concept runs throughout my book. It’s a fairly simple concept, you know, I’m not the one who made it up. But it’s this idea that we have biases, implicit biases, towards people that are like us. And whether that is like us in terms of, I don’t know, religion, color of our skin, socioeconomic status, language that we speak, whatever it is, we tend towards people that are like us, because we share a common language.

The flip side of that is that we tend to shun people that aren’t. We tend to view them as other as somehow less than, and you see it if once you start listening to it, you start to see it everywhere. Start to see it in the way that we talk about the poor, even just that phrase, the poor is an othering sort of phrase, it’s putting distance between us and, quote-unquote, the poor. You see it in the way that people of faith talk about people without faith and vice versa. You see it in the way that we talk about people of other genders or races. You know, to Andrew’s point, all of this stuff that happened was othering Andrew, you know. It was making him other. And there’s another quote, I think it’s in Andrew’s chapter. It’s from Paul Farmer. In this quote, he says that Andrew didn’t choose to be poor, nobody chooses to be poor. And he didn’t choose to be poor. Poverty is a historically given and economically driven reality. All of the stuff that I talked about with Andrew sits on top of a history of the country itself… sits on top of history of Liberia and how it was founded and the civil wars that happened behind it and the fact that Liberia itself exists because we in the U.S. had a culture of slavery, you know, 150 years ago and like all of this history behind it, is stuff that he didn’t have to be born into, but it contributes to his othering.

Raeanne:

Well, what happened to Andrew?

Dr. Shrime:

Well, we took out the tumor to reconstruct that area, we took a bit of his pectoralis muscles in his chest muscle rotated up there to close the hole, and then took a skin graft to put skin on top of that. He actually did really well, he kind of kept coming back initially for post-operative care, but then just as a social visit to the ship. Ended up playing drums in the church that happens on the ship while we were still there. So, it was really cool. It was really cool to see that transformation.

Raeanne:

Wow, that’s really cool. Well, what is one thing you think we can do as humans to kind of get rid of this idea of the other?

Dr. Shrime:

I don’t know that we’ll ever get rid of it. I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish and think, okay, we can get rid of it altogether. But I do think being aware of how we ourselves individually are doing it. In other words, it’s, it is easy for me to look at, you know, whatever somebody else would be like, “Oh, look at that, that was just really other than just what you just did over there.” It’s a lot harder to watch the words that I use and the concepts that I say, and make sure as much as I can, that I’m not putting that distance between me and someone else. There always will be… I have a history that I grew up of, as does everybody else. So there always will be that distance. But how can we use our words, our positions to flatten that sort of power differential. Just like Andrew didn’t ask to be born with albinism, in Liberia, I didn’t ask to be born, you know, in Lebanon, which much richer country. I have on many levels, won the quote-unquote, birth lottery, you know, I was born to a Christian family as a male in a fairly affluent country. So just because of that accident, my story has power that others don’t. And for those of us who were who have that, we’ve drawn that lot in the birth lottery, I think it’s actually incumbent on us to be even more careful with this other.

Raeanne:

One thing I think of too, is that we’re really quick to focus on our differences. But if we can almost retrain our brain to focus on all that we have in common, I think in some ways that can kind of bond us together as humans. I know, when we were on the ship, as a family, I got asked the question of what is it like to be around poor people? What is it like to be around poverty? And, you know, it was interesting, because I thought of the moms down in the hospital that are being caregivers to their children receiving surgery, or the fathers. And I thought, you know, they’re not that different than I am. Because every mom wants to do all she can to make sure that her child is cared for, or a father would do the same. And, sure, we were very different. But there was also a lot that we had in common.

Dr. Shrime:

Yeah, yeah, I agree.

Raeanne:

Mark, you say that you fought medicine so much, and you were always looking for a way out. Yet here you are an accomplished surgeon still practicing. So, once you solved for your why, or truly discovered your purpose, how has medicine changed for you, and are you content now with being a doctor?

Dr. Shrime:

I get asked this question, sometimes by students who are starting on the medicine path, you know, “Would you do it again? If you knew what you knew now? Would you do it again?” It’s a really hard question to answer because, as I say, in my book, I hated, you know, 15 years of training. But it also got me to where I can do the things that I do now. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Had I not done that. Yes, I love being in the operating room. But this goes back to the question that we opened with.

I love being in the operating room because I’m doing this thing, it’s really cool. Surgery is really cool. It’s a little bit weird that we can actually pull off the things that we do and the human body recovers. I love doing that. The future that I was looking at when I was coming out of medical training was a future that just did not capture me. So, I didn’t like medicine, because I didn’t like what it was chaining me to. Now that I’m chained, so to speak to something else that I actually find compelling, medicine is a tool. It’s just a tool to be able to do that.

Raeanne:

Absolutely. Well, Mark, I want to close with this. You’re a very impressive man with academic accomplishments. You have your titles and degrees. But Mark with all of that, what are you most proud of in your life?

Dr. Shrime:

Let me start by saying that, I talked about this in my book, 100% guilty of doing exactly what I talked about in my book, which is that we as humans are kind of programmed to focus on the things we do wrong. So, we’ll ruminate for days on something that we did wrong. And then we have a success or like, cool onto the next thing. And I do that too. I do that too. So, it’s really hard to look back and be like, “What is the one thing that I am the most proud of?” The chance to continue to build a life around this concept of othering, around this concept of inverting injustices, not a single one of us is immune to having committed ourselves, but doing whatever we can to invert them. The thing that I’m actually really proud of is, we started talking, “we” the global health community, started talking about surgery as an important part of universal health coverage. We had some, we didn’t have a lot of data about the problem. Back in the mid-2000s, thought that surgical disease encompassed 10% or 11% of the world’s disease burden. With some colleagues, I published a paper that showed that it’s closer to 30%. And I’ll tell you, what gives me a lot of pride is that that’s the number that’s now like in the UN reports, and the WHO reports and all the reports about surgeries. And it’s fun to look at that number and be like, I wrote that. That’s my research.

Raeanne:

Well, that’s awesome. And that’s great, because exposing that number and educating the world about that number, hopefully will only serve to decrease that number.

Dr. Shrime:

That’s the hope. That’s exactly the hope. Yeah.

Raeanne:

Mark, thank you so much for all that you do, not only to impact your patients but also to impact the world by educating them about this need for access to safe surgery for every nation. Mark, thank you for writing this book. And thank you so much for taking the time to share with us a little bit about it today.

Dr. Shrime:

Thank you very much for these questions.

Raeanne:

I really can’t recommend this book enough. Along with Mark’s gripping stories and brilliant insight, he offers much to consider as you live a life of purpose.

Another person living into their purpose is nurse Ellie Rollins, who will be sharing with us next week about her experience volunteering with Mercy Ships. She’s heading back to Dakar, Senegal for her third field service and you don’t want to miss what Ellie has to share with us next week on New Mercies.

For more information about Mercy Ships go to mercyships.org and to keep up with the guests on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.

[gravityform id="1" title="false" description="false"]
<div class='gf_browser_unknown gform_wrapper gravity-theme' id='gform_wrapper_1' ><div id='gf_1' class='gform_anchor' tabindex='-1'></div><form method='post' enctype='multipart/form-data' id='gform_1' action='/new-mercies-dr-shrime-pt-2/#gf_1' novalidate> <div class='gform_body gform-body'><div id='gform_fields_1' class='gform_fields top_label form_sublabel_below description_below'><div id="field_1_1" class="gfield gfield--width-half gf_left_half gfield--width-half field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_1"><label class='gfield_label screen-reader-text' for='input_1_1' >First Name</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_1' id='input_1_1' type='text' value='' class='large' placeholder='First Name' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_1_3" class="gfield gfield--width-half field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_3"><label class='gfield_label screen-reader-text' for='input_1_3' >Last Name</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_3' id='input_1_3' type='text' value='' class='large' placeholder='Last Name' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_1_8" class="gfield gfield--width-full field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_8"><label class='gfield_label screen-reader-text' for='input_1_8' >Country</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_8' id='input_1_8' type='text' value='' class='large' placeholder='Country' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_1_4" class="gfield gfield--width-full field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_4"><label class='gfield_label screen-reader-text' for='input_1_4' >Email Address</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_4' id='input_1_4' type='text' value='' class='large' placeholder='Email Address' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_1_7" class="gfield gfield--width-full field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_7"><label class='gfield_label screen-reader-text' for='input_1_7' >Message</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_textarea'><textarea name='input_7' id='input_1_7' class='textarea large' placeholder='Message' aria-invalid="false" rows='10' cols='50'></textarea></div></div><div id="field_1_9" class="gfield gfield--width-half gfield_html gfield_html_formatted gfield_no_follows_desc field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-js-reload="field_1_9">By submitting, I consent to receive content from Mercy Ships in accordance with their <a href="#">Privacy Policy</a>.</div><div id="field_submit" class="gfield gfield--width-half field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" data-field-class="gform_editor_submit_container" data-field-position="inline" data-js-reload="true"><input type='submit' id='gform_submit_button_1' class='gform-button gform-button--white button' value='Submit' onclick='if(window["gf_submitting_1"]){return false;} if( !jQuery("#gform_1")[0].checkValidity || jQuery("#gform_1")[0].checkValidity()){window["gf_submitting_1"]=true;} ' onkeypress='if( event.keyCode == 13 ){ if(window["gf_submitting_1"]){return false;} if( !jQuery("#gform_1")[0].checkValidity || jQuery("#gform_1")[0].checkValidity()){window["gf_submitting_1"]=true;} jQuery("#gform_1").trigger("submit",[true]); }' /></div></div></div> <div class='gform_footer top_label'> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='is_submit_1' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_submit' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_unique_id' value='' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='state_1' value='WyJbXSIsIjQ4NDBhNjRiMTY5ZThhNjBjODgzYTkxYTk0MmQxNjgwIl0=' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_target_page_number_1' id='gform_target_page_number_1' value='0' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_source_page_number_1' id='gform_source_page_number_1' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' name='gform_field_values' value='' /> </div> </form> </div>