Moffitt Cancer Center Nurse Volunteers on Floating Operating Room in Africa

June 30, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. – Since high school, Marris Smith knew she wanted to volunteer for Mercy Ships, an organization that provides free health care to people living in developing countries who otherwise would have little to no options.

Smith works as a registered nurse for Moffitt Cancer Center.  In January, she took a temporary leave of absence to begin service with Mercy Ships in the Republic of Congo.  While in Africa, Smith worked, slept and provided life-saving care to patients while on a floating hospital called Africa Mercy. She was one of 400 volunteers representing 35 nations.

Africa Mercy is the world’s largest private hospital ship and has five modern operating rooms, with 82 beds for patients. Smith, whose 25 years old, worked in the general surgery ward and helped patients recover from procedures that included removal of benign tumors, and correction of orthopedic congenital deformities and severe burn complications.

“The hospital ward was constructed quite differently than back home. It was one large room with 20 beds for the patients while their caregivers slept underneath the beds. It was quite cramped at times, but it was so amazing to see how these patients helped each other. People that were perfect strangers prior to surgery would assist each other to the restroom if they needed help,” explained Smith.

Mercy Ships programs promote health and well-being by training doctors in developing nations and by meeting the urgent surgical needs in some of the world’s poorest countries.

“During the three months Marris served onboard the Africa Mercy, she lent her skills and her compassion toward the Congolese people in the hospital ward and with local outreach opportunities. On any given shift, she treated patients with a variety of surgical needs – both infants and the elderly. Whether her patients needed a dressing change, close monitoring after a complex surgery, or playing another game of Jenga, a favorite among patients on the ward, she fulfilled her job with excellence! The new opportunities, new hope, and new life in her patients are testimony to the power that one person’s faithful service can create,” said Bethany Salmonson, Mercy Ships volunteer ward nurse general team leader.

Moffitt allowed Smith to spend three months pursuing this volunteer opportunity with Mercy Ships. The organization seeks volunteers from medical communities around the world to provide care for people in developing countries.

“The trip definitely caused me to be more grateful for our medical access here in the U.S. A lot of the major surgeries performed on the ship were things that would have been noticed early in the states and been taken care of prior to needing major surgery,” Smith said.

Smith has worked for Moffitt for three years. This was her first time volunteering for Mercy Ships.

About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, treating more than 2.42 million direct beneficiaries. Each year Mercy Ships has more than 1,600 volunteers from more than 35 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. For more information click on

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the No. 1 cancer hospital in Florida and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer since 1999. With more than 4,200 employees, Moffitt has an economic impact on the state of nearly $2 billion. For more information, visit, and follow the Moffitt momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.