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  • The Surgery Ship [FILM]

    Posted on 7th March 2016 by Marrwah Ahmadzai in

    I recently watched The Surgery Ship, an award winning documentary as seen on SBS and the National Geographic. Read a review below and then check out more Books and Films.

    The Surgery Ship is a documentary detailing the incredible work performed on the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest independent hospital ship. It sails along the West African coast and docks at a different country each year providing free surgery for those most in need. The volunteer staff treat patients with confronting conditions never seen in Australia, including benign tumours that grow unchecked and surgeryshipposterdisfigure the face beyond recognition and bone problems that tangle them beyond use. Thousands of people flock to the ship to be considered for treatment but only a limited number can be helped.

    ‘It’s hard to say to someone with so much hope, “no we can’t help you and you will die from this”’.


    This documentary is captivating. The viewer is shocked, not only by the dramatic medical conditions showcased, but also by the prompt decisions the doctors must make when faced with cases they have never seen before and the ethical dilemmas surrounding choosing with patients can helped. For the patients, the ship represents the final frontier of hope. Their disappointment and abandonment when surgery cannot help them is heart-wrenching. A member of staff describes this: ‘It’s hard to say to someone with so much hope, “no we can’t help you and you will die from this”’.


    The Surgery Ship is told through the stories of various medical staff, including both young and veteran surgeons, a physiotherapist and nurse. Though their perspectives and motivations are enlightening, their characters are not explored at depth. As a fellow medico, I feel it would be nice to learn more about their experience and the challenges of their work. Nonetheless, the documentary is easy to follow, with medical conditions described in lay terminology.


    This documentary is appropriate for a wide audience. Medical students or junior doctors looking for inspiration at the beginning of their careers will find it interesting, as will seasoned doctors that may be attracted to aid work. It will also move the layperson, revealing the quiet heroism of the staff that are involved in the project as well as garnering an appreciation for our own privileged health system.