On Independence Day, our thoughts inevitably turn to those who bravely risked treason to form the United States in 1776 and to those who have served our nation ever since in our armed forces. That includes a part of the service we don’t always see being celebrated, but whose steady humanitarian work around the world is a testament to the highest goals of the United States, “that all men are created equal.” We’re talking, of course, of the hospital ships of the U.S. Navy.
In May, the USNS Mercy, the lead hospital ship of her class in the Navy, paid a call to Pearl Harbor and allowed medical students and East-West Center students from the University of Hawai`i to go aboard. The medical student group visit was organized by second-year medical student Kendra Dilcher, President of the Rural & Global Health Interest Groups at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). Dilcher knows the hospital ships’ missions quite well. She was aboard the USNS Comfort (Mercy’s sister ship) for a medical mission to Central America (via Project Hope) in 2009.
Also joining Kendra on the tour of the Mercy was Austin Nakatsuka, fellow JABSOM student (first year) and Co-Vice President of the Rural & Global Health Interest Groups, and Jeannie Dilcher, a member of Rural & Global Health Interest Groups, and owner/manager of a private family medical clinic on O`ahu.
The Mercy was in Hawai`i on its way to participate in the 2012 Pacific Partnership Mission, which included civil assistance stops in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. On June 12, the Mercy broke the Pacific Partnership record by performing 26 surgical cases in a single day off Indonesia.
The primary mission of the hospital ships are to provide mobile acute medical and surgical services to support forces from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy when they are deployed on the ground or in the air. But during humanitarian missions around the world, the ships–with their bright red crosses in a field of white paint–have become a symbol of hope that transcends borders.
The Mercy has a dozen operating rooms on board, 1,000 patient beds and medial support services that run from dentistry and optometry to radiology and pharmacy.
The ship is home-ported in San Diego.
In our main photo, our JABSOM delegation and students from the UH’s East-West Center pose on the deck of the Mercy. Photos courtesy of Kendra Dilcher.