Dr. Peter Linz: Sailing unchartered waters to provide medical care

Sailing unchartered waters to provide medical care

Peter and I are a mere 10 days away from boarding Mercy Ships! When we get on the ship, it will be inspiring to meet people like Dr. Peter Linz in person.  Linz is a cardiologist who joined Mercy Ships in January of 2012 after a 30 year career in the United States Navy. I am proud to “e-introduce” you to him!  

With all that is frustrating about the American healthcare system, it is still considered by many to be the best in the world. How and when did you decide to practice medicine on Mercy Ships instead of at an American hospital?

Dr. Linz: In many ways Mercy Ships is the embodiment in one of the purest forms of a key reason most Doctors and health care professionals went into medicine in the first place, a desires and calling to help ones fellowman and relieve suffering. Each professional that serves with us has their own story as why they give of their time and talents. Many find it life changing experience to bring the skills and technology of “the best care in the world” to those in need who without our presence would likely have no access to care. It is very liberating from a professional point of view to deliver care without having to consider reimbursement and insurance issues or “how much care can my patient afford”.

On a personnel level I spent almost 30 years serving as a physician in the US Navy and during the course of my carrier had the opportunity to be involved in the organization, planning and leadership of a humanitarian health care mission in Southeast Asia abroad the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). It was one of the highlights of my professional life a lite a passion for this kind of work. I joined Mercy Ships 3 months after retiring from Active Duty and the experience has been a true blessing. What a great way to live out my Christian faith.

Remember the vast majority of the doctors who serve with Mercy Ships spend most of their time working in the 1st world and give of their free time to serve with Mercy Ships.

How might the ailments and needs in Congo be different to other points of call in Mercy Ships' past?

Dr. Linz: The ailments we see are likely to be very similar to those that we have seen in other West African countries. In general throughout the region there is a much greater need for care than there is capacity to deliver it. There is of course some variation from country to country depending on what healthcare facilities and programs may be available and the state of infrastructure in terms of the population’s access to safe drinking water. What can be very different is how the population views the sick and diseased which can be dramatically affected by local culture and religion.

What is the process for the assessment that will take place at the beginning of the mission - how do you decide who gets help first? 

Dr. Linz: The assessment process has been going on for over a year. It began with an assessment team visit that met with the Ministry of Health, relevant government officials, local NGOs and other ministries. The team conducted surveys of the local hospitals and local health care training programs. The goal of this team is to collect enough information to gain an understanding about the local health system and partners to help appropriately design our projects.

All of this work helps us to ensure we are prepared to deliver sustainable projects.

A small advance team has been working with our local partners in the country for the last 3 months to work on logistical arrangements and generate public awareness of our upcoming visit. The Africa Mercy is not a general hospital but is really a specialized surgical unit so we are in search of patients with a specific set of conditions. Shortly after arrival we will hold a patient selection/screening event open to everyone where we will select patients based on their suitability to safely undergo the necessary procedures.  Patients with the most urgent life threatening conditions we are able to treat will be obviously be scheduled first. We will also schedule similar screenings in more remote areas of the countries interior. At least 40% of the patient slots will be reserved for these remote patients. In addition we will receive direct referrals from local healthcare facilities and NGO’s.

If you have a favorite or most striking memory from your time onboard one of the Mercy Ships, could you describe it?

Dr. Linz: I am not sure I have a favorite memory, but I will make two observations. The first is the enduring memory of the multiple smiles, laughter and understanding expressed by the patients after treatment that crosses all boundaries of language, race, and religion. It is an example of the very best in human interactions. The second is the unbelievable honor it is to serve alongside people from over 35 different nations all working together for a singular purpose.

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