Volunteer nurse finds her calling in Africa

Choosing her path

Though Erin Muyres studied to become a nurse, she felt even during her schooling that a typical nursing experience would not quite fulfill what she wanted to do. On one of the many nights spent in the library, she researched online to find out how to use her nursing education and discovered Mercy Ships. She then decided to focus her efforts and set her path on serving on the hospital ship. After completing her training, she accumulated experience as a nurse to prepare for service with Mercy Ships. Her first position was in a small community on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. This regional position allowed her to quickly develop her skills, clinical judgment, and professional autonomy as specialists were not readily available and she needed to step up to the task quickly. She then continued her preparation by working in pediatrics in a Saskatoon hospital.

In 2015, she began her journey with Mercy Ships to Madagascar and then to Benin. She jumped in headfirst on a one-year adventure as a ward nurse on the Africa Mercy, having the chance to serve in all specialties and even teaching Neonatal Resuscitation. In 2021, she had the opportunity to join the Medical Capacity Building Program to provide Neonatal Resuscitation training in Liberia.   by her experiences, she set out to train and pass on her knowledge to her peers. She remembers thinking, “How do I get to teach? How is it possible this is not taught?”

That’s when she discovered her passion, even her life calling. She realized that training not only gives a chance to the future patients that the participants will have under their care but also strengthens the trained professionals with new skills, empowers them and builds their confidence in their own skills. Having completed her time in Benin, she was looking for the next step, but the path wasn’t clear. Seeing no short-term opportunities with Mercy Ships, she decided to return to Canada.

Waiting for the right time

Following her experience in Madagascar and Benin, she chose to continue her studies in Montreal, at McGill University, for a Master of Sciences in Public Health. Having found a path consistent with her abilities, training and values, she completed her training with a project in Uganda where she   a training program on best practices for hospital discharge of patients under 5 years of age in order to prevent post-discharge mortality. Through all of her experiences, both in her studies and in the positions she has held, she has been touched by health inequalities, her heart having remained with the patients and health professionals she had worked with in Africa. Following many experiences, the position of Medical Capacity Building (MCB) Program Director was opened and she hastened to apply, seeing the ideal opportunity and timing.

Staying the course

First MCB team running the MCB courses on the Global Mercy. © Mercy Ships

Now volunteering as the MCB Projects Director, Erin brings passion and energy to the vision of seeing Africa and its health care professionals trained, equipped, and encouraged to better care for their people and ensure that every patient has the opportunity for access to safe and affordable surgical care. The magnitude of the task is matched only by the courage of this woman dedicated to this crucial mission. Through her involvement, she has chosen to invest in the present and future generation of the medical field. She is not alone in this great task but is accompanied by a dedicated team of 6 members from the 4 corners of the world: USA, Benin, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Working on long-term goals can be like searching for the horizon while being in the middle of the ocean, you don’t always see the other shore. In navigating this great mission, we must look to the Hope beyond us, much like sailors look to the stars for direction when the other shore is not in sight. Her team set up a way to encourage each other by sharing a list of daily “miracles” that fuel their personal and team motivation; they look to the stars to stay on course. Erin confirms that “we have “little” miracles added to our list every day to encourage us on this journey!”

Simple skills, big impact

Researchers estimate that 85% of children in low-income countries will require surgery before their 15th birthday. In Senegal, where more than 40% of the population is under the age of 15,  pediatric anesthesia training can save and improve many lives. It is this type of training that Erin and her team are working to make available. In fact, during Global Mercy’s first presence in Africa, Erin and her team delivered 25 intensive trainings over a four-week period: trainings in anesthesia, essential surgical skills, biomedical anesthesia, sterile processing, neonatal resuscitation and many others.

“Simple skills can make a big impact.” Erin joined the team of facilitators on the Global Mercy and taught a Neonatal Resuscitation course. “About ten percent of babies need resuscitation when they are born and most of those only need some ventilation support, so just helping them breathe and then they’ll be fine,” explained Erin. “So this course is a simple intervention teaching how to effectively ventilate to save lives.” One hundred local medical professionals took the course, with some returning a second day to learn how to deliver the class themselves. With the knowledge and practice they received, these doctors and nurses will give lives to those whose otherwise would not have had the opportunity to live. 

Erin is thrilled with this accomplishment onboard the Global Mercy as 275 local health professionals were able to participate over these 4 weeks. As the MCB team are embarking on the new year, the need remains great, but they are driven by the desire to serve Africa to the best of their abilities, fueled by the hope of seeing lives transformed in both patients and health care professionals.

Erin Muyres, Medical Capacity Building Projects Manager, teaches a Neonatal Resuscitation Medical Capaticy Building course in the Deck 3 Simulation Center in the Global Mercy. © Mercy Ships

To support Erin in her volunteer service, please give generously here. Read the stories of our other Canadian volunteers on this page!