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Africa Calls

Even as a child, Megan Petock Wanted to help others and so a medical mission

The beauty of nursing is that its essence can be found in so many places. It can call a nurse into bedside nursing, management, academia, or across the world to a medical mission.

The latter is the call that wooed Megan Petock, RN, 2 years ago from pediatrics in a big-city hospital to pediatric nurse on the Africa Mercy Ship docked in Monrovia, Liberia.

Since her return to the U.S. from Liberia, Petock is heeding yet another siren call - to become a communications officer for Mercy Ships, a charity operating the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world. She joined the Africa Mercy in July now docked in Cotonou, Benin and will stay there until the end of December. (To read about her experiences log onto her blog at

 Heeding the Call

Initially it was a tough decision for this nurse of 4 years, who resides in Holland, PA, with her family, including brothers Ben, 23 and Josh, 18. "I don't know what attracted me to Africa," Petock told ADVANCE before leaving for Benin. "Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do some form of medical mission. Luckily, my parents are very supportive; of course they would feel more secure if I was nursing in this country."

During her first stint on the Africa Mercy, Petock blogged about the experience and wrote periodic articles for ADVANCE for Nurses, accompanied by poignant photographs. "In Africa, nursing opened the door to share my experiences through writing and pictures. I never thought about doing that before; it's cool how one experience can lead to another."

In her new job as a volunteer in communications, Petock will promote the work of Mercy Ships, which started in 1978. She will also speak to groups using a book she wrote about her experiences, A Year of Mercy.

Right now, the organization operates one ship, the Africa Mercy, which is the length of two football fields and has 6 operating suites performing 7,000 surgeries annually.

Surgeries on cleft palate/lip, benign tumors, club foot, postburn contracted limbs, vesico-vaginal fistulas and many other conditions change people's lives, Petock learned on her first medical mission.

 Truly a Volunteer

While they are volunteers, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, engineers and a host of other volunteers pay for the privilege of working on the Africa Mercy or in the surrounding countryside setting up water purification systems, among other things. "We actually pay to stay on the ship," Petock revealed. It will cost her $625 a month to live on the Africa Mercy during this 5-month trip.

This doesn't prevent volunteers from flowing in every season. "All kinds of people volunteer," she said thinking back to her first stint on the ship. "Some stay for 2 weeks, such as some of the anesthesiologists and nurses, and others, like one surgeon, have been there for more than 20 years with his family."

 Always a Nurse

While Mercy Ships has attracted Petock to communications, she is not giving up on nursing. She is quick to point out her last employer before her departure promised to keep a space for her in pediatric home health.

In speaking to ADVANCE in May, Petock was already doing her job as a good PR person without forgetting she is a nurse. Petock reminded ADVANCE, "Please mention they always need nurses, especially OR nurses" (

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