161207 The Surgery Ship TV Series Mercy Ships 0084. lo res


Dr. Brian Barki, who completed his residency with the UAB Department of Anesthesiology in 2012, is featured on a new Nat Geo show. Called The Surgery Ship, it details the dramatic stories that take place aboard a ship that docks in the poorest sections of West Africa to provide life-saving care for patients who otherwise would go without. The show has begun airing in Europe and Australia—stay tuned for U.S. dates. Meanwhile, we caught up with Dr. Barki about the experience.

Q: How did you become involved in Mercy Ships?

A: I first heard about Mercy Ships during my time at UAB. I was immediately drawn to the idea of a hospital ship. I had been on medical mission trips before, in fact once with Dr. Clanton during residency. While the work I did on those previous trips was helpful, we were always very limited because of the lack of equipment, supplies, medications, etc. With Mercy Ships, we bring a first-world hospital to the people. Of course we still have our limitations, but we also have a lot more capability that opens a whole new world of possibilities. 

After residency, I moved back to Oklahoma and had the “perfect” life (a great job, house, friends, church, etc). I was content for a few years, but somewhere along the way, I started getting an unsettled feeling in my heart. Something was missing. My wife, Jamie, said, “Why don’t we volunteer with Mercy Ships?” Turns out she was half kidding, but that planted a seed in me. I wrestled over the decision for a while, and after finding out more about what Mercy Ships was about, I thought, “How could I NOT be a part of this?”

I initially volunteered short-term with Mercy Ships in Congo in 2013. That two-week trip was a fantastic introduction to the organization. The following year, I returned, this time with Jamie, to get her thoughts on how she felt our family could do in this setting. She was all for it. I quit my job in May 2015 and have been with Mercy Ships since that time.

Q: How did National Geographic become involved?

A: There was a “Surgery Ship” film done a few years ago in Guinea. I believe Nat Geo approached Mercy Ships with interest in following that film up with an eight-part series. 

Q: What was it like to participate in a documentary series? Any behind-the-scenes scoop that illustrates the complexity of filming a medical series?

A: At first, it was a little strange having a film crew around, but they were really great people, and they did a tremendous job of putting us at ease. After a while, we just got used to going about our day with the Nat Geo crew coming along with us. 

There are many complexities to filming a medical series like this, most of them I’m probably not even aware of. They did a tremendous job of selecting patients to follow and telling their stories. I think Nat Geo really did a great job of capturing what Mercy Ships is about. 

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: As volunteers with Mercy Ships, we do not get paid a salary. In fact, we have to pay monthly “crew fees” that cover our room and board. This is in addition to health insurance, plane tickets, etc. Honestly, we do this because we know God has called us to this work. For us, any other reason to leave family, friends, a great job, and the comforts of home would have been crazy. 

MGC151028 DR BRIAN BARKI ANESTHETIST USA RP001 MIDThe patients we serve are often outcasts. Many are treated as modern-day lepers, viewed as cursed. People won’t have anything to do with them. To make matters worse, they do not have access to affordable, safe surgery. To be able to offer these patients hope and a chance for a new beginning is tremendously fulfilling and really brings me back to the whole reason I became a physician. 

I also love that Mercy Ships continues to expand its Medical Capacity Building programs. Each country we visit, we are renovating hospitals and training more and more anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, surgeons, midwives, nurses, sterilizers, biomedical technicians, etc. We usually stay in a country for 10 months at a time. The Medical Capacity Building program is a way to invest in local healthcare systems in an effort to contribute to sustainable long-term solutions.   

Q: What else is important that you’d like to share? …. How did UAB help shape you, or how can we help?

A: I am so grateful for my time at UAB. Not only did I acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be equipped to do something like this, but I was also surrounded by tremendous people, both attendings and residents. 

UAB Anesthesiology can help by spreading the word about Mercy Ships. Tell our attendings and alumni about the opportunity to serve. UAB attendings can come serve with a resident, and I’d love to see some more UAB alumni on board! Dr. Todd Beasley has already volunteered this year. People can serve on the ship for as short as two weeks. If teaching is your passion, there are opportunities to come for one week and teach training courses on pediatric or obstetric anesthesia. 

Tell surgeons, OR nurses, PACU nurses, ward nurses, sterilizers, etc. about the work Mercy Ships is doing. And while we need medical people, the non-medical crew are just as important. We need volunteers for any job that a hospital, a ship, or a small city might need.

If there are people that want to be involved, but do not necessarily want to serve on the ship, there are always opportunities to partner with Mercy Ships financially. 

More information on volunteer and giving opportunities can be found at www.mercyships.org

161207 The Surgery Ship TV Series Mercy Ships 0084. lo res