Celebrating the surgeon behind the first
operation on the Global Mercy®

Volunteer Dr. Rachel Buckingham

From One Generation to the Next

Around 100 years ago, Rachel Buckingham’s grandmother became a doctor at a time when some universities in the U.K. still barred women from qualifying as physicians. 

Little did Dr. Muriel Griffiths from Cardiff, Wales, know that she would inspire her descendants as she headed off to India to treat patients with leprosy in the 1920s. 

Dr. Muriel Griffiths
Portrait of Dr. Muriel Griffiths. © Mercy Ships

Dr. Buckingham, who has been a Consultant Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at the Oxford University Trust since 2007, said: “My grandmother was a doctor and a trailblazer. In the 1920s she went off as an unmarried woman to India as a medical missionary.  

“It was she. My father, another inspiration, was also a surgeon. But hearing what she did, including her work with leprosy patients, made me decide, aged 10, that I wanted to study medicine. And I did not want to do anything else from then on!” 

Sadly, her grandmother died in 1977 when Dr. Buckingham was still young, but her formidable spirt left its mark. 

First Surgery on the Global Mercy

Dr. Rachel Buckingham
Dr. Rachel Buckingham, Orthopedic Surgeon, Andrew Wainright, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon, and Sophia Gehring, Operating Room Nurse, in the Operating Room during the first ever surgery on the Global Mercy. © Mercy Ships

Fast forward to 2023, where Dr. Buckingham was part of an historic moment herself, as she performed the first surgery on board a ship which is expected to transform more than 150,000 lives through surgery alone during its 50-year lifespan. 

In addition, thousands of African medical professionals will receive training and mentoring with the goal of multiplying impact within their communities. 

While mother-of-three Dr. Buckingham performs her surgeries, she will be training a Moroccan orthopedic surgeon alongside her, who is committed to staying in Senegal to treat the Senegalese people.  

Dr. Buckingham, 55, said: “Senegal has not got a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. I am hopeful he will be their first.” 

Her husband Rob, a professor and robotics engineer, volunteered with Dr. Buckingham on board the organization’s other hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, in 2019. 

He volunteered in the dining room while Dr. Buckingham went into pediatric orthopedic surgical care. 

Stark Differences

Rachel with twins Ousseynou and Assane on previous trip. © Mercy Ships

Dr. Buckingham said: “Coming out here you notice some stark differences. The lack of surgical care people have here. We treat children with such severe deformities because they would never be able to get to that point at home, we would have treated them in early life. People are just so grateful for the chance to get surgery.” 

In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 9 out of 10 people have no access to safe surgery, according to a 2015 Lancet study. Dr. Buckingham said the need is critically obvious. 

“What keeps me coming back is the need. It’s the ability to train local healthcare workers and make a difference. Mercy Ships really wants to do itself out of a job. You go into medicine to have an impact, so here we have a massive impact.” 

Just as her grandmother did, Dr. Buckingham’s determination and courage is seeing her change the lives of those in urgent need.  

Could you transform lives like this volunteer? Mercy Ships needs all kinds of skills, from medical to maritime, teaching, and hospitality, in order to run its hospital ships. Discover more at https://www.mercyships.org/get-involved/  

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