A Look Back on a Decade

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” –Charles Darwin

This year marks 10 years of Floating Doctors operations.  In 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti, a rag-tag band of us (aboard a boat we had rebuilt ourselves) sailed to Petit-Goave for our first mission.  Weeks turned into months turned into years and we grew from just a few intrepid volunteers and crew members (whose exploits have since passed into legend) into an organization that hosts almost 1,000 volunteers annually from all over the world and operates a rural health care system providing services over more than 10,000 square kilometers of jungle-covered mountains, mangrove mazes, and open sea conditions in Panama.

Everywhere we went, the weather was always changing…the wind and the sea have their own agenda and all we could do to reach that horizon is to trim the sails, batten the hatches, put the wheel over and press on.  Living and working on the water means adapting yourself constantly to ever-changing conditions.  The sea may be calm one minute, and a white squall may roll you over the next.  Adapt or perish.

The health landscape is also always, always changing.  Needs change, capabilities change. resources change. Governments change.  Diseases rise and fall like empires.  To survive and flourish, Floating Doctors has always adapted to meet change, but after ten years of flexibility and change I can still clearly see our original core ideals present in every aspect of what we do and who we are:

  • Patients still count.  One patient is still worth as much to us as a thousand patients.  
  • We align ourselves first and foremost with the groups for whom we advocate and serve.
  • Volunteers matter and we create learning and growth opportunities to make the world they return to a better place. 
  • We believe there isn’t anything we’re ever doing so well we couldn’t be doing it better.
  • We believe that compassion is the most important first element of any health care. 
  • We believe that when a goal for humanity is supposed to be impossible, we should try all the harder to achieve it.
  • We believe that to be of service to others is a vital part of our own liberation. 
  • We believe that it is all a leap of faith:  for a volunteer to step into the boat, for a patient to place their trust in one of our doctors, for a supporter to believe in us. 
  • And we still believe that to reach an impossibly far shore, you can’t save anything for the swim back. 

In ten years, it seemed like many lifetimes passed. I’m STILL processing what we saw and experienced, especially in those early days. But I’m proud that in all that time we have remained completely true to who we wanted to be, and who we have always been, and who I know we will always be.  It sure hasn’t always been easy…in fact it’s easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, in every way.  And it has certainly rarely been comfortable-after all, you can be comfortable or you can be growing, but usually not both at once…and we’ve been growing continuously for ten years.

But although looking at what we have now may seem extraordinary from our humble beginnings, don’t get too comfortable–everything you can see in Floating Doctors now may indeed be a monument to the efforts of those whose acts will write the history of their generation.  But we’re just getting warmed up…wait till you see what comes next.

So gear up, batten the hatches, grab the wheel  and prepare to trim the sails. There be storms and squalls ahead, but treasures far beyond gold and silver as well. The direction is easy–second star to the right, and straight on till morning.  It only seems impossible until one day you look up to find yourself standing on a new world, and already looking ahead to the next one. 

Fair Winds,
Dr. Ben