Meet Dr Peter Linz
“When my wife first mentioned the idea of both of us volunteering with Mercy Ships, I said: ‘You’re crazy!’ But God has a sense of humour.”
Dr Peter Linz is the International Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Ships, responsible for overseeing all of the organisation’s medical programmes. He has been in this position since May 2013 – just a year after first volunteering on the Africa Mercy, in Togo. But this speedy rise makes sense: when you look at his CV, it seems like Dr Linz’s whole life was leading to the ship’s gangway.
Dr Linz, a cardiologist, spent almost 30 years in the US navy, working in a variety of medical roles – including stints on the navy’s hospital ships, the Comfort and the Mercy. “They’re 1,000-bed surgical hospitals,” he says. “Single-hull super-tankers that the navy bought in the mid-1980s. They took the oil tanks out and put the hospital in.
“In 2007-08, I was on one of the ships for a year as director of medical operations. The crew of 1,000 was made up of US military, military medical people from 10 other countries and five NGOs. We spent six months in the Philippines, Vietnam, East Timor, New Guinea and Micronesia. We did 2,000 surgeries, 15,000 man hours of medical education, and had contact with 90,000 people. And I spent about three months before that going around with a small team doing advance work.”
Has anyone ever been more prepared to volunteer with Mercy Ships than this? “In terms of that sort of experience,” Dr Linz says with a smile, “there’s probably not ten people in the world who have it.”
Dr Linz’s wife, also a physician, had had Mercy Ships on her mind for around 20 years. She went to see the Caribbean Mercy when it was docked in San Diego – and when Dr Linz retired in 2011, she persuaded him that they should both volunteer.
“When I first started I was just the hospital physician, and I tried to be pretty low-key. I was told later on that I wasn’t that low-key,” he says with a laugh, “but I tried to be. I came to share what knowledge I had and to do the best job I could. I had more experience than some of the junior doctors who were working on the ship, so I could help mentor them.”
After Togo, he returned for the Guinea field service to fill in for someone else – and after that, he was hooked. In his role now, he has regular contact with the ship, Mercy Ships HQ in Texas and all of the national offices around the world – including the UK. So how has Mercy Ships evolved since he joined?
“In the time I’ve been with Mercy Ships we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on medical capacity building – not to the exclusion of direct surgical services, but added. It’s important in terms of long-term sustainability. Yes, we’re helping to deal with the surgical backlog, but if you’re trying to help the long-term problem it’s the old story of teaching a man to fish.”
Dr Linz is consistently bowled over by how successful Mercy Ships is. “You can clearly see God working,” he says. “Because if you look at it, it shouldn’t work. I take people from 40 different countries who haven’t worked together, put them in a white box on the other side of the world, and deliver world-class healthcare? That just shouldn’t work.
“That’s the really cool thing about the ship. You have all these people who’ve been called for various reasons but they’re all working for a common purpose.”