The Floating Doctors crew is group of men and women from all walks of life united in their passion for the healing arts and a desire to serve.
“Grandad, were you a hero in the war?”
“No…but I served in a company of heroes.”
No one who has not served in a Floating Doctors leadership role can truly appreciate the challenge of operating and growing a health care and community development service in such resource-limited regions. Floating Doctors crew come from all over the world, united by their common desire to live a life of service and undeterred by the sacrifices this requires.
Heroism comes from giving of ourselves not when it is easy, but when it is hard. It means helping not just when the weather is calm and resources are near at hand, but when storms hit and help is far away. It means not giving up when barriers seem completely insurmountable, but instead interpreting them as challenges to overcome on behalf of a patient in need. Sometimes it means participating in a dramatic rescue…but most of the time being a real hero is done in small unsung ways, such as giving kindness even when you are tired, and giving the last patient of the day the same care and attention you gave the first.
In today’s day and age, it would be easy to be cynical. But time and again we are inspired by the victories for humanity won for our patients by our volunteers and staff. In the face of what our staff routinely endure and accomplish, we are continually humbled and given renewed faith in humankind. Although the world will surely hold many difficult days ahead (and has there EVER been a time when that could not be said?), we know that there are people in the world who will not refuse the burden of addressing these issues. After all, we have worked with many of them.
Here’s who we have on our crew right now:
Dr. Benjamin LaBrot
Founder & CEO
Dr. Benjamin La Brot is a native Southern Californian with a long association with the ocean. From childhood, he worked on commercial fishing and research vessels and spent countless hours on (or under) the water off the coast of Southern California.
Ben attended the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland and worked as a medical doctor in the Irish Health Care System, eventually helping to set up and then run a long-term care elderly facility that also provided acute hospital services. Travel and private medical mission work in developing countries led Ben to combine his love of the sea and medicine to bring more help to remote rural communities, founding the Floating Doctors in 2009. In 2010, Ben led the first Floating Doctors mission to Haiti and has been continuing ever since.
Ben says that each successive time he traveled in the developing world, his backpack carried fewer personal items and more medical supplies, and that the most heartbreaking part of doing medicine in the developing world is when the backpack is empty and there are still many people in desperate need. For Dr. Ben, Floating Doctors and his crew of dedicated volunteers is “A much bigger backpack over many thousands of miles; I promised myself I would come back to the developing world with more help, and now I finally have the chance to keep my promise.” Ben married the love of his life Karine in 2013 and they continue working together to grow Floating Doctors.
Karine Tchakerian LaBrot
Director of Operations (on Hiatus)
Karine Tchakerian grew up roaming the chaparral of Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains not far from the ocean. Little did she know at that time that her future husband lived only a couple miles away from her and would occasionally deliver pizza to her house.
From an early age, Karine has been involved with non-profit work—at age 10, she founded the organization CHORUS, which served to help provide food, blankets and clothing to the homeless of Skid Row in Los Angeles. She continued volunteering with Heal the Bay, Tree People, Healing Bridges, and the Save Darfur Coalition. In 2007 she directed Songs For Darfur, a concert raising funds for Darfuri Refugees currently living in Chad. Karine has a background in Environmental Studies focusing on freshwater biology and while she loves and greatly misses the fieldwork she performed for the Resource Conservation District, she recognized that she is most fulfilled when caring for others.
After being the primary caregiver for a family member and spending four months running a small village school in remote rural India, Karine decided to dedicate her life to helping bring care and services to underserved populations. She obtained a Master’s degree in Nursing from UCLA, and joined the Floating Doctors as a permanent member of the team to oversee clinical operations and to head up the development of health education and training programs. In 2013 she married her pizza delivery boy, Dr. Ben LaBrot and they are finally together working side by side.
Director of Volunteer Resources
Genie first joined the crew in 2014 as a Volunteer Coordinator (and unofficially as a Personal Human Carousel For Children). Born in New York City to refugee parents and raised in 10 countries, Genie’s background inspired lifelong passions for humanitarian work, cultures, the arts, and our shared humanity. After majoring in fine art and theater in England, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a professional artist while volunteering with several nonprofits. Enamored with the resourceful people and natural beauty of Bocas, Genie is thrilled to be able to support the Floating Doctors’ mission full time from California, as Director of Volunteer Resources. If you are coming to work with us (or already have), you have surely already connected with this awesome woman who does the work of ten people and helps you along the path to your experience with our teams.
Clinical Supplies Manager
Jonas joined Floating Doctors in July of 2017 as the Pharmacy and Clinical Supplies Manager after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis where he studied genetics and computer science. You can see his eye for photography by scrolling through our Instagram page. Born and raised in San Diego, Jonas was happy to again be close to the ocean. When he is not managing our pharmacy or moving supplies, you can find him surfing or scuba diving near Isla Colón.
Liz was born and raised in Southern California, but now calls Seattle home. She got a degree in Psychology and went to work in the entertainment world. After 15 years, she finally decided to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, went back to school and got a nursing degree. She’s been involved in several nonprofits for many years. So Floating Doctors was perfect, combining her love of nonprofits and nursing. She originally came as a volunteer in October 2017 for 2 weeks, and has been here ever since.
Lonneke van Merwijk
Operations Manager & Financial Controller
Lonneke was born in the Netherlands and studied International Business and Crisis Management. She spent the last few years living in Brazil, Germany and Italy and worked for large companies in the private sector before joining the Floating Doctors team in September 2017. Lonneke enjoys bringing her business know-how to the humanitarian sector. She loves the coffee on base, has her best nights of sleep in a hammock, enjoys every single boat ride and cannot imagine leaving the Panamanian cooks, captains and security guards behind one day.
New Jersey, USA
Natalie joined Floating Doctors as a Clinic Manager after graduating from Colgate University with a degree in Cellular Neuroscience and Spanish. She discovered her passion for working within pluralistic medical systems in underserved countries while studying in Cape Town, South Africa for a semester. Natalie will leave Floating Doctors in August 2018 (with her new Open Water Diver certification!) to attend Columbia University for a Master’s degree in Health Policy.
Dr. Luis de La Parra
Lead Medical Provider
Luis was born in Bogotá, Colombia. He has a wide range of medical experiences with a focus on people in vulnerable situations, remote areas and humanitarian emergencies. Human rights, international human rights, sexual and reproductive agenda, gender and socio economic cultural rights are topics of his interest.
Health Education Coordinator
Mary Smith is from The States and has always had a love for travel. She attended Missouri State University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and a minor in Spanish. After university, she left The States and started teaching English abroad. She has taught in several countries but has spent the last couple of years in South America. She translated for Floating Doctors for several months before joining staff as Clinic Manager and continuing as Health Education Coordinator.
Naomi was born in Singapore and raised in Australia by an english mum. She has spent 20 years traveling and working around the world in the hospitality and tourism industries and most recently while living in New Zealand, completed her studies in humanitarian logistics. Joining Floating Doctors in October 2017 without any Spanish but with great leadership skills, her mission for the next year is to learn as much Español as possible and to make an equal effort at learning the local Ngäbere language without too excessive an Aussie accent.
Malika Smoot recently graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a minor in Public Health. Malika developed an interest in Public Health long before she knew how to put a name on it, and for years thought the interest was Nursing. After spending a year as a State of Ohio Certified Nursing Assistant at long-term and acute care hospitals, Malika was able to gain valuable experience delivering quality and basic healthcare. However, after this year, she discovered she wanted to focus more on health education, promotion, and administration, as well as work with vulnerable populations. Malika was referred to Floating Doctors from a friend who expressed she could do just that. Since joining Floating Doctors, she has come to admire the care provided to these isolated areas, the education and counseling given to those who rarely, if ever, see a medical professional, and the positive effect Floating Doctors has on the community. She wants to be able to continue this positive growth and leave each community knowing the people will have the tools and education to live healthy lives. Malika will be with the Floating Doctors crew throughout 2018.
Our Panamanian Team
Our staff are much more than just our workers; everyone who spends time helping to shoulder the work of operating a rural health service for such a large area becomes part of the Floating Doctors crew, and anyone who has served in a ship’s crew knows that a crew is much more like a family than mere co-workers. Indeed, one our medical leads is godmother to our Captain Alexi’s son, and many of our staff’s children have had hundreds of proxy uncles and aunts among our volunteers and other international leadership. We look after each other the way a crew or a family must. We share the good times and the bad; when tragedy strikes we support each other and when the sun is shining and the weather is calm we share the jokes and the banter. Therefore, don’t be shy about acknowledging our staff, thanking them, and chatting with them during your time with us. At worst, it will help your Spanish, and at best you might find surprising friendships and connections waiting for you here, across the ocean and among the mangroves.
Sirena Café Kitchen Staff
Our Sirena Cafe kitchen team provide great meals for us from Sunday night to Friday night, and they are justifiably proud of the quality of the food they create-especially in such a remote setting. With a variety of different styles, they never fail to have a hot meal waiting when we return back from a busy clinic and they are great about making sure that vegetarians or people with dietary restrictions have more to eat than rice and beans. Please don’t forget to thank them for taking such good care of you and to compliment them on their talented culinary achievements!
Captains, Maintenence & Security
When we are many miles from the nearest human outpost, beyond the reach of radio or cell service in waters with constantly changing weather, reefs and sandbars or weaving through the mangrove mazes to find hidden communities, we need consummate professionals at the helm. Additionally, constant salt exposure, equatorial sun and 200+ inches of rain a year place a heavy maintenence burden on our boats and our base. Day and night, good weather and bad, these are the men captain our boats, build and maintain our base, and keep watch over us all at night. You will be in good hands and able to travel to work in the most remote communities in the knowledge that safety is always the number one priority.
And here is our gallery of our past veterans, many of whom not only came and “did the work,” but who left a legacy behind in the form of a development project that increased our capacity and continued to help people after their service was completed. Much of Floating Doctors was built by crew members who identified a need and took responsibility to develop and implement a solution, and many of these unsung heroes continue to give their time and support to Floating Doctors.
Dr. Ryan McCormick
Founding Crew Member: Vice President & CME Partner
Dr. Ryan McCormick grew up in Los Angeles, and was a high school student of Ben’s many years ago. Over the years, they developed a close friendship and became a founding member of Floating Doctors working as the Vice President. After working for a year rebuilding Southern Wind, he worked in the clinics in Haiti and Honduras before going to medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. While there, he took the lessons he learned in providing patient care and expanded on them completing additional education in Emergency Medicine, Wilderness Emergency Medicine, and Trauma Management. After graduating he returned home to Los Angeles working with Ben’s father, Dr. George LaBrot, at UCLA and doing clinical research at LA County/USC Hospital for a year followed by working as a research coordinator at UCSF for the neurological research trials. He is currently working as the Research Director for the California Center for Sleep Disorders, and plans to start a residency in Emergency Medicine in July 2019. He works in Panama with the crew several times a year and each time looks forward to going more. He also co-founded RemoteCareEducation
Sky LaBrot is Ben’s little sister but shouldered a heavy load on board the Southern Wind! Sky has a long history of helping her brother Dr. Ben—Sky became SCUBA certified in her early teens and helped Ben run the marine science field program Island Interns, which brought high school students on 6-day field biology trips to the Channel Islands off California and 1,000 miles south into remote parts of Baja California, Mexico.
Sky graduated from the Art Institute in Santa Monica with a B.S. in Culinary Management; a successful restaurant and club opener with a culinary degree, Sky’s skills in negotiation and management saw Floating Doctors through over 500 mobile deployments and helped grow the organization from its infancy.
Sky has directed missions in Haiti, Honduras, and Panama and has an extraordinary talent for overcoming complex logistics challenges.
Director of Volunteer Resources
Growing up in Arizona with healthcare professionals on all sides of her family, Jolie developed a strong desire to help others.
After earning her bachelor degrees in Spanish and Nonprofit Management at Arizona State University, she joined Public Allies, through which she helped create the operational documents for the Arizona Association for Environmental Education.
After moving to Virginia, she was the Membership Coordinator for the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, where she oversaw the transition from a closed, outdated database to a new online application, which served the members more fully.
A cousin to Ben and Sky LaBrot, Jolie had the fantastic opportunity to join Floating Doctors first in October 2011, where she assisted in revising their budget and developing a financial reporting system. She fell in love with Panama, the indigenous groups we serve, and (strangely for this desert rat) the water, and had a very difficult time leaving. With twins now getting big enough to free at least one hand, the redoubtable Jolie works with our US-based team on development projects to grow Floating Doctors’ capacity.
Sam was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and spent most of her youth in San Salvador, El Salvador. In 2005, she graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in Finance and Graphic Design and spent the next few years working as a Licensed Banker and Junior Fixed Income Trader. In 2009, she decided to switch gears and become an early childhood educator at One Fifty Parker Avenue School, a well-loved private non-profit preschool in San Francisco, California and it was during this time where she began to explore her passion for education and outreach. Her love of dance spilled into the classroom as she designed and implemented an educational component that involved teaching Spanish through music and movement and her other bigger project involved strengthening Parker School’s Service Learning and Outreach program by creating a close partnership with the Fabretto Children’s Foundation in Nicaragua and leading annual teacher volunteer trips to Managua during the summers. In 2015, She invited some of her colleagues to volunteer teach in Bocas del Toro, Panama and worked as the first Operations Manager for Floating Doctors.
Kevin is an English dentist based in Devon, with Mauritian and Chinese heritage, confused yet? He graduated from the University of Bristol and later received a MJDF RCS(Eng) postgraduate degree. His main focuses are to improve the quality of life in the patients he treats and the development of youth through education in health or activity.
He has spent the last four years amidst wonderful adventures; suturing facial lacerations, surgical wisdom tooth removal, plating broken jaws and lifting broken cheekbones in an OMFS department in Torbay hospital.
Kevin will never say no to a sport or a board game, he has played rugby and football (soccer) at national and regional level. In his spare time Kevin likes to run marathons, or if not on land he can be found wakeboarding or scuba diving for the night’s supper. To fuel his active habits, he is big on food and has recently been named the inaugural Devonlife magazine’s home cook of the year. Kevin somehow also found time to develop the the Sirena Cafe at our base of operations from scratch–now feeding our teams six days a week.
Kevin is delighted to be invited into the Floating Doctors crew and excited at the prospect of a sustainable dental clinic, to provide healthcare and education into utilizing such wonderful natural produce available to the Ngäbe communities. Kevin appears to be narcoleptic when returning from clinic so on modes of transport or comfy sofas please do not use any filters when taking photos. Thank you!
Ai was born in Japan, where she was raised to hold her chopsticks right. At the tender age of 9, she moved to Calgary, Canada, which she now calls home.
She worked as an RN in a post cardiovascular surgery unit for 6 years until she joined Floating Doctors in May, 2015. During her time in Panama, she learned to float in water without assistance, a little bit of Spanish, and made a map of all air-conditioned spots in Bocas Town.
Kellie was born and raised in Southern California, where she graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelors degree in Liberal Studies. She continued her education at private nursing university and is now a licensed registered nurse. Kellie is an avid traveler and her mission is to continue to travel the world and give back to the communities and people she encounters. While traveling around Africa in the summer of 2012, she started a school for young people with developmental disabilities called New Beginnings – Maisha Iko Sawa in the slum of Kibera, Kenya. She has been working with the population of special needs for over 10 years now, as her family runs and operates a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. Kellie also volunteer coaches for Southern California’s Special Olympics when at home. She finds her happiness when she’s traveling and in when in nature. Kellie continues to assist Floating Doctors by coordinating the transcription of our paper patient data into an electronic database for analyses and research.
Kinman grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He later attended the University of Georgia, where he had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and Peru. He graduated with a B.S. in Biology and a Spanish minor. An aspiring medical student, Kinman is excited to gain direct experience serving populations without direct/reliable access to sufficient medical care. Kinman loves to be outside in the mountains or on the water with dogs and friends.
Erin was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated in 2012 from Princeton University with a B.S. in History. While an undergraduate, Erin played 4 years of varsity field hockey for the Tigers. Following graduation, Erin took the New Jersey Transit train straight to New York City’s Wall Street- where she worked as a strategic business consultant for some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical, financial, and retail companies and eventually went on to lead a strategy and operations team at one of NYC’s latest tech “start ups.” After three years in NYC Erin decided to switch careers and enrolled in Thomas Jefferson School of Biomedical Science’s medical Post-Baccaleaurate program in Philadelphia, PA. Currently she is applying to medical school for the 2017 cycle. With a passion for Global Health and medical strategy within developing countries, Erin was brought to Floating Doctors. When Erin isn’t working you can find her hiking, running, traveling, or playing with the nearest stray dog!
North Carolina, USA
Kira was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. She attended the University of South Carolina where she double majored in International Business and Finance and minored in Spanish. After graduating college, Kira moved to Panama where she now serves as the Finance Controller for Floating Doctors. When not reconciling cash flows or updating expense reports, Kira can be found perusing old pictures of her hairless cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, or reading her Kindle.
Dan Evers, DVM
Dr. Dan Evers hails from Florida, where Dan attended the University of Central Florida obtaining a B.S. Zoology before going on to achieve a DVM in Veterinary Medicine and a B.S. in Agriculture from Tuskegee University. Dr. Dan maintained a private veterinary practice for 27 years before spending over a year in Panama frequently deploying with our teams, and has a special interest in veterinary orthopedics and adipose stem cell therapy for animals.
Dr. Dan defined our Veterinary ethos and still attends field clinics when visiting Panama, treating the dogs, cats, cows, pigs, horses, and other animals that nearly all the communities have. The health of these animals is not only important for the productivity of the community, but because many parasites and diseases in these animals are transmitted to humans, especially worms. All part of creating and maintaining healthy communities–we are always looking for Veterinary assistance, so if you are a veterinarian please contact us to learn about volunteering with our service in Panama.
Founding Crew Member and Rural Telecom Developer
New Jersey, USA
Noah has a background in construction as well as holding B.S in Biology from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Noah is a New Jersey boy and the ultimate handyman with a background in personal training and physical therapy. Noah has been with Floating Doctors since the beginning and helped rebuild Southern Wind and run operations in Haiti, Honduras and Panama. Noah is currently based in California developing the “Give The Ngabe A Voice” Partner Project, working to give communications and solar power to Ngabe communities throughout the region.
Noah has a strong interest in philosophy, history and science and how these disciplines can be integrated to improve people’ s lives. Noah has a gift for problem solving and one of his core beliefs is that “there are no problems, only solutions”—one of the basic tenets that has brought Floating Doctors from a dream to reality.
New Hampshire, USA
Lorie is a registered nurse a mom to many, a lover of the water and helping put people back together again. Lorie has been a registered nurse for 40 years, with 20 years experience working in pediatrics, surgery, and clinical nursing and the latter 20 in clinical psychiatry and substance abuse treatment. In addition to her RN, Lorie is certified in Yoga and Soul Collage.
Lorie has learned to work in our remote jungle settings and regularly does patient intake in our clinics, as well as assisting providers. She took a huge role in managing the nursing home we support, and also maintains the morale of our staff and volunteers whenever she returns to visit–never was there a more understanding ear or a more genuine kindness performed.