Mercy and Perspective

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Mercy Ships is a Christian-based charity based in Lindale, TX, that sends its fleet of ships to developing countries to treat medical conditions that, due to a shortage of medical personnel, would otherwise go untreated. Volunteers pay their own room and board for a period of two weeks to several months at a time to travel to such locations, where the ships dock in deepwater ports and treat thousands of people who line up--sometimes for miles--to receive treatment. Since its founding in 1978, Mercy Ships has served 1.9 million people as direct beneficiaries. Mark Laret, chief executive officer of the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center, is the only hospital CEO on its board of directors.

On what he brings to the table as a hospital CEO:

For one, contacts with the medical industry. One of the things you can't help but notice for all our complaining about the state of the U.S. healthcare system is that we have so much, and on Mercy ships there are people who have absolutely nothing. Things we'd throw away or not consider adequate would be a godsend to some of the people in these areas. There are so many diseases, like benign tumors, cataracts, cleft palates and obstetric fistulas, that just don't get corrected and create physical and social problems that in this country we would've solved in 10 minutes.

On what Mercy Ships has done for his perspective as a CEO:

It's made me much more humble about what's important. You realize your job isn't about the next generation of radiological equipment or how many more ICU beds we need to add or whether we recruit another subspecialist in this area or that. What these people need is very basic. Obviously, UCSF Medical Center is one of the top medical centers in the country, and we need to work hard to continue that tradition and improve, but it's made me realize that sometimes the things we think we can't live without really aren't as important as we think.

On his experience on the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships' flagship:

I just missed what would've been my first trip to Africa to see it at work. I have been on the ship twice in Newcastle (England, where the new Africa Mercy ship was retrofitted). Next year I'll be able to get on the ship while it's working in Africa. The Africa Mercy was once one of these massive Danish rail ferry ships that worked mostly in the North Sea. It's now a hospital ship that has 6 ORs, 78 beds and is a floating hospital that brings quality medical care to places that have nothing. The ship left Liberia in November after several months in port.

-Philip Betbeze

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