New Mercies: Erin Muyres
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Educating Medical Professionals for a Lasting Impact

Erin Muyres was in nursing school in Canada when she began to question her decision to become a nurse. During the late hours in the library one night, Erin started to research what she might be able to do with her nursing degree when she finished school, and that was when she discovered Mercy Ships. She spent the next weeks watching every Mercy Ships video she could find, crying through them, and dreaming of a new vision for her life. She was determined to volunteer with Mercy Ships as soon as she was eligible, and that’s just what she did.

In this episode, Erin shares how her first field service was not only a dream come true, but also the start of a whole new dream. Erin explains how her knowledge and experience as a neonatal nurse allowed her to teach others and save many lives.

You will be encouraged by this sweet woman’s story of keeping her heart open as God prepared her for a role she never expected. 

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.

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the 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.

One of our goals at Mercy Ships is to work ourselves out of a job. Yep, that’s right. We desire to do all that we can to strengthen healthcare systems in developing nations so that they will be able to care for their own people. And we do this by offering courses, internships and mentors to local medical professionals where we serve. On the front lines of this medical capacity-building venture is Erin Muyres, who’s joining us to share about her important role with Mercy Ships. Here is my interview with Erin Muyres.

Raeanne Newquist:

Erin, welcome to New Mercies, and Happy New Year.

Erin Muyres:

Thank you. Happy New Year to you too.

Raeanne:

Do you have any goals for the new year or any dreams or hopes?

Erin:

Lately I’ve been mostly thinking one day at a time. So I’m excited to bring the new ship the Global Mercy back to Senegal and continue working in our MCB projects for next year. So I think that’s probably the biggest goal get the GLM back to Senegal.

Raeanne:

That’ll be exciting for the very first field service.

Erin:

Yeah, the first full field service with MCB. And the hospital running because we did a wee bit in Senegal last year.

Raeanne:

Well, I know that at the end of last year, you all had a big transition. You were on the Africa Mercy, And y’all sailed up into Tenerife, and kind of had a mass move, if you will, everyone from the Africa Mercy went over to the Global Mercy. And that is currently where you are. Is that correct?

Erin:

That’s correct. Yeah.

Raeanne:

Before we get into your current role on board, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you heard about Mercy Ships and why did you decide to go volunteer.

Erin:

I heard about Mercy Ships when I was still in nursing school. I think I was in my third year. And nursing school can be kind of tough. And at the time I was kind of questioning if nursing was for me because I wasn’t how I had hoped it would be. So one really late night in the library at my university, I was just Googling ways that I could use nursing once I graduated. And I don’t even remember what I searched, but Mercy Ships came up. And so I just started devouring all of the videos. And sitting in the library crying. I decided this is what I’m going to do — from pretty much that moment on my goal was to come and serve with Mercy Ships. I bought the t shirt, I signed up for the mailing list, and every time they’d say urgent need for Ward nurses, I’d be like, I can come! And they’d be like, No, you need two years of work experience. So I kept on working to finish school, and once I got my two years experience, I applied and then came six months later.

Raeanne:

Wow. That’s so exciting. I love that deep desire and drive that you had that kept saying I might not have the experience yet, but come on and take me, take me!

So your first field service with Mercy Ships then was in Madagascar; what were your first impressions?

Erin:

It was amazing. I often joke that my time with Mercy Ships, I’m always waiting. Because I showed up in Mada and it was when we had a delay in the field service starting because of the propeller. And then there was another delays. I ended up just waiting in the capital for almost three weeks before I even saw the ship. And we have to take a bus from the Capitol to the coast where the ship was, and I just remember there were so many of us waiting, we had probably three or four buses, and all rolled up at the same time with dozens of us. And just seeing the ship for the first time after all that waiting from before nursing school on, about four years — it’s hard to describe what it feels like when a dream comes true. But that’s what that moment was, a dream come true.

Raeanne:

What was your first field service like that and what were you doing on board?

Erin:

I was a ward nurse. I was on D-ward which was general surgery. We were small, we only had 10 beds compared to like the 15 or 20 on the other wards. Initially, I’m a pediatric nurse and an obstetric nurse and in general, we have a lot of adult males, which was a population I had never really worked with. So I was a bit disappointed that I was assigned to the general surgery ward. But that time on that ward was so so special. I had a great team leader, Jane White, who’s still working in the hospital, and a great team. And I really learned so much from them and from our patients. And because our unit was smaller, you really got to build really close relationships with the patients. And in the end, I was so grateful to have been assigned to D-ward. Most of our patients had hernias, like we did so many hernia surgeries, and you think, Oh, it’s just a hernia, but it actually makes such a difference in the lives of these men. They’re there just a couple of nights, but it still has such a huge impact.

Raeanne:

Now, you must have enjoyed it a lot because you returned again for the following field service, is that correct?

Erin:

I did yeah, it was amazing. I think being a ward nurse on the ship is probably one of the best jobs. Because you’re with the patients, and you get to see the impact every day of the work that we do. So yeah, I have the classic Mercy Ships story, you come for a certain amount of time, and you stay way longer than you expected! I signed up to come back for three months to help get the Benin field service started, and then ended up extending and staying through May. So that’s pretty much the whole Benin field service.

Raeanne:

So then you returned home to Canada, I assume for actually a couple years, and you have just recently returned back to Mercy Ships to volunteer. Tell us a little bit about what was going on back home in Canada that caused you to say I think I need to go back and do this again.

Erin:

Well, when I left the ship in 2017, I didn’t really want to leave, I tried everything to stay, but it didn’t work out. So while I was on a ship, because I’m an OB nurse and I teach neonatal resuscitation at home in Canada, I had the opportunity to help teach a couple of courses in neonatal resuscitation. And then this was kind of when MCB, Medical Capacity Building, was still a bit of a new department figuring out how that was going to grow. So I got to spend some of my time off ship helping in a course and that experience really changed me and my dream and my vision for my life. The thing that really got me was when we followed up with some of the nurses and midwives that we taught. A few months later, we went to visit them at their hospital, and they were just so happy that we remembered them and that we took time to go and see them and to follow up. It was more about the relationship and the encouragement that gave that were checking up seeing how it was going, if they needed anything, and that we remembered them. The impact that had on their confidence and ability to implement what they learned was amazing. But then they also went on and told us all a bunch of stories about how they use what they learned to save babies and how babies lived who would usually have died and how they taught all their colleagues and they were so proud to show us the equipment that we gave them. So that experience really got me thinking. And obviously God used that to plant a seed in my heart to see where that would go.

So at the time, I tried to join the MCB team, I had a meeting with the director and there wasn’t a place in the team for me at the time. I applied for a couple of other roles and they just didn’t work out. So it just really felt like it was time to go home. And I had no idea what I would do. The season was done for now, which was really hard to accept because I felt the most like myself I had ever felt and most living in my calling I’d ever felt while I was on the ship. But I just had to trust that God has a plan and that he was faithful through the last few years on the ship, so he’d be faithful when I went home. So I went home with no plans. I went back to nursing back to pediatric nursing. And that also is a bit of a challenge because the transition is hard. I was working in a pediatric cardiology unit that did heart transplants for children with congenital heart effects and were complicated, complex surgeries. And I struggled because all of those children are alive because of where they live, and have that opportunity because of where they live, right. And in the countries I had just been serving, those children wouldn’t have that opportunity and wouldn’t survive. So I struggled to be there in that job, but also that was more fuel to the fire of what I were felt I was being called to. So I ended up going back to school, and did a master’s of public health. I was trying to learn more and get more skills and experience to be able to move into this part of the work that we do in health system strengthening and increasing access to surgical care in low-resource countries.

Raeanne:

That is so exciting because, as you mentioned, you tried to stay, you tried to apply in different areas, but God was saying, this isn’t what I have for you. He knew all along that he was actually going to start instilling in you new skills and new knowledge and new abilities so that you could do what you’re doing now. You’ve returned back to Mercy Ships last year, with all of this new education under your belt and experience, what are you doing currently onboard?

Erin:

Currently, I’m the Medical Capacity Building Projects Director, I did that last year on the Africa Mercy and just moved over to the Global Mercy for however long. So I’m responsible for leading the team that implements all of our medical capacity-building projects in the country where the

ship is.

Raeanne:

Tell us for those who are listening and maybe don’t know much about medical capacity building, tell us specifically what that department is within Mercy Ships.

Erin:

So we are part of the team that helps strengthen the health care system from the national side. We need our hospital to meet the direct need of the patients who are in front of us who have a surgical need, because their system can’t give them what they need and can’t provide the surgery or the specialists etc. So that’s why we have the hospital on the ship. Our side of things is to support the local system to be able to help it grow and improve so that it can meet those need themselves. Because eventually, the ship won’t be there forever, so we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job to increase the capacity of the national healthcare system to meet the surgical needs of their population.

Raeanne:

I love that Mercy Ships does not simply come in and give free surgery to people that need it. But we also make a huge investment in the country by training up local doctors and nurses and medical professionals, which is what you get to head up. And that is so exciting. I love that Mercy Ships has a much bigger vision than just the here and now. But they’re looking beyond, as you mentioned, to strengthen the national health care system of the country that we’re serving in. So with that, my goodness, you’re leaving such a huge lasting impact that will really influence so many people in the country — what has been a highlight for you over this last year doing that?

Erin:

With our work, you don’t always see the impact right away because it takes time to learn a new skill, takes time to implement it in a challenging setting when you maybe don’t have everything that you need when you go back after your course or your mentoring. And then often we don’t even hear the stories, once people go back to their job, we don’t necessarily always hear how they were able to use it. So all year our team has been talking about planting seeds, and really trusting that God will make them grow. Just like God plant seeds in our lives — like in my heart I thought Mercy Ships was maybe something that I could do in the future and it took five years for me to get here. But that seed was planted and God was faithful to help it grow. So we’ve talked about that a lot, because you don’t always see it right in front of us or in this field service. But we also talked about the miracles and looking for miracles every day. Because God also gives us that to show us that He is present in the work that we’re doing. And we’ve been very thankful, even if it’s just getting a meeting with someone from the Ministry of Health that we’ve been trying to get for ages or we got the participants we needed for the course — God makes all that stuff happen for us.

One story comes to mind when the Global Mercy was in Dakar in June. We had all the Africa celebration events and the inauguration of the Global Mercy and we had an MCB Field Service onboard. So we had four weeks of courses that we ran for 300 participants with 25 courses in four weeks, it was a mad dash and blitz of MCB activity, but also the first time that Global Mercy was used for programmatic work. So it was a really exciting time and we’re all really thankful that we got to be a part of it. But one of the courses we ran was neonatal resuscitation, which, of course, I’m partial to as a neonatal instructor. That’s my course that called me into MCB. So I was helping with the course and we do train the trainer — we have participants who participated in a course that picked up the skills quickly and they were passionate about helping others or teaching, so then we train them how to train others. And then they usually come and help us run the courses the rest of the time we are doing it. And so, I was leading a scenario breakout session with some of these students and we were practicing scenarios where I was a participant, and they were trying to coach me and mentor me through a scenario. After that, sometimes we like to make it a little bit challenging for them, you know, throw some curveballs at them, see how they deal with their third participants.

But we were chatting and debriefing after and one doctor just said very casually, Well, you know, well, it works. And I’m like, Oh, it works. Like, what do you mean? He’s like, Yeah, well, I use what you told me. Oh, you did? And how did I go? Well, it works. I tried it on a baby and it worked. And I’m, like, amazing, when was that? He said it was yesterday! They took what they learned and put it into practice and saved a baby’s life. It’s just very cool to know that even if we don’t always hear the stories, there is such great potential impact of what we’re doing.

Raeanne:

It’s so amazing to know that sometimes the difference between life and death is education. And it’s just a shame that there are so many places that don’t have the resources to even educate their people on how to do sometimes simple things to preserve life. But I love that you guys are doing that. You mentioned there were several different courses that you guys teach, what are some other courses that MCB teaches?

Erin:

Yeah, so we focus on the courses and things that help strengthen the surgical healthcare system. So we have central surgical skills, which is kind of a basic training for surgeons. Usually residents are later year residents that practice basic surgical skills on pork meat because it closely resembles humans skin and intestines and things. And then we have some anesthesia courses that support anesthesia providers. There are some safe obstetric and pediatric courses, we have a new partnership with Vast, which is another anesthesia course, we have essential pain management, because most surgical patients have pain. We have a safe surgery team that goes around and travels in the country and visits hospital and operating room teams to teach the WHO safe surgery checklist and communication, teamwork, surgical counting, that kind of thing. WHO checklists are a proven tool to improve patient outcomes in surgery.

Raeanne:

So it’s multifaceted. There’s all sorts of different courses that y’all are teaching. Now the people that come to these courses, what is their background? Are they already medical professionals? This isn’t the type of courses that anybody takes and then can walk away and say, Oh, now I can work in a hospital because I took this course, right?

Erin:

No, that’s right. The idea is that they’re kind of continuing professional development, because that is the system that is in place, you know, in Canada, it’s mandatory for me to keep my license as a nurse. But in lots of the countries where we serve, it’s not easily accessible or available. So these are courses for the existing healthcare workforce. They have to be qualified as a surgeon, anesthesia provider, nurse or midwife to be a part of the courses.

Raeanne:

Having served in a couple of different countries in Africa thus far, have you noticed a difference in the initial training of medical professionals? Like for example, some of the nurses maybe that are coming into your MCB courses, would you say that they are trained nurses in the same way that you were trained in Canada?

Erin:

There are some differences. I have a lot more autonomy and nurse responsibility at home. We are active participants in patient care and work closest to the patient. And that’s extremely valuable. And I’ve found that nurses don’t necessarily always have that same value. In the health care systems here, they are more told what they should do. They don’t have the autonomy or their voice isn’t respected as much, which for me, I think that the nurses are amazing and a very underutilized resource in these health care systems. So encouraging and supporting nurses is something I’m really passionate about.

Raeanne:

Through your time volunteering this far, how have you seen lives changed?

Erin:

One of the other things that we do on MCB, we have healthcare professionals come join us on board, and they work in our hospital alongside of our international crew. They’ll be in the operating room or in the ward or the start processing area and they spend time caring for patients. And so some of that is learning new skills, new ways of doing dressings, or possibly a surgical procedure. But one of the big things that they always say they take away is the way we care for our patients. That compassion and love that we show them, especially our patients who are often marginalized, there’s a stigma they are neglected from society that’s deeply rooted in some cultural beliefs and norms. But on the ship that doesn’t exist, we love them fully as children of God. And that really comes across in the way that our teams care people, our patients, and that’s something that often our mentoring participants will say that they see a different way of caring for their patients, which is an amazing outcome. This is a very cool mindset change for people to take back into their settings.

Raeanne:

Well, Erin, how are you different? How was your life been transformed after volunteering with Mercy Ships?

Erin:

I was just talking with someone who is leaving and doesn’t really know what’s next and how that kind of is a very uncommon thing at home. You know, people have a year planned out or in advance, they know when their next vacation is, everything is really planned and to not know what’s next is very unsettling and not very usual. But that essentially has been my life since I joined Mercy Ships, I just never really know what’s next. But God has been faithful every step of the way. And so now it just seems like that’s normal and I can just not know what my next step is, what the next year will look like, what ships I will be on next, which country… but I just know that God has been faithful through it all, so he will continue to be faithful. And I can trust that whatever is next will be good. This last year or two, I guess 2021 and 2022, I’ve just had to really depend on God in a different way than I ever have before. I served in Liberia in 2021 with Mercy Ships without a ship, in a local hospital and that was super challenging. And then this last year, bringing the Africa Mercy back into service post COVID also had a lot of challenges for us. And God always gave me what I needed. But I have never had to depend on him for what I needed as much as I have in the last two years. And that has been really hard, but also really amazing to know that like each moment, I can know that he’ll give me the energy, the strength, the patience, the grace, endurance, the understanding, wisdom, whatever I need in the moment to make what I need to happen or make a decision or whatever. And just shows me that none of it is me, that I’m really just a tool God’s using. I’m thankful and honored that I get to be a part of it, but that he he’s the one who makes it all happen because he gives me what I need to be able to do it.

Raeanne:

Such great life lessons to learn, and if he did it for you once he’ll do it again, because he doesn’t change.

Erin:

So it just builds our faith stronger and stronger that when the hard times come again, you can look back and remember how he provided. I remember how he provided and in Senegal and he’s going to do it again.

Raeanne:

Well, Erin, we are so excited for the work that you’re doing, it is so valuable, and it really is transforming not just one life, but many, many lives as there is this beautiful ripple effect as people are educated they in turn, go and educate others. Erin in this new year, many blessings to you and your medical capacity building team and thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your Mercy Ships journey with us today.

Erin:

Thank you so much.

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.