Montreal pediatric surgeon practices on land and at sea

"When you go to Africa, you need to be able to do everything. You cannot just be a subspecialist," says Dr. Sherif Emil, a Montreal Children's Hospital pediatric surgeon who volunteers with Mercy Ships' hospitals at sea. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

From the Montreal Children’s Hospital to a hospital at sea, pediatric surgeon Dr. Sherif Emil is using his expertise to deliver healthcare for free. In March he’ll be off to West Africa to serve aboard the Global Mercy ship. The vessel has doubled in capacity to help pediatric patients’ most urgent surgical needs.

“When you go to Africa, you need to be able to do everything. You cannot just be a subspecialist,” the surgeon says, adding “as pediatric surgeons, we’re really general surgeons for kids.”

In one day, Dr. Emil can operate on the head, neck, pelvis, abdomen and chest in patients that range from infant to adolescent age. 

Having routinely spent time in Africa, he was approached by the chair of the board of directors of Mercy Ships Canada. The organization, which brings free surgery and medical training to developing nations, was interested in recruiting the Montreal Children’s surgeon.

“I joined their board and I really was just struck by the story. A year later, I went and my first country was Madagascar. And I’ve gone every year since, except for the COVID year, so I’ve been to Madagascar, Benin, Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea and I’m going to Sierra Leone in a couple of weeks.” 

“We are the last resort for many of these patients. Some of them live with disabilities their entire life until they’re able to come to the ship and have the surgery,” Dr. Emil told CityNews.

The health professional describes the experience as the ultimate partnership between residents from the Montreal Children’s Hospital and others from around the globe.

Dr. Sherif Emil performs surgery at the Montreal Children’s Hospital on Feb. 15, 2023. (CREDIT: Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews Image)

“It’s not just physicians and nurses. It’s a community of 400 people living on the ship. They need cooks. They need I.T. personnel. There’s a lot of media people who volunteer to do the videos,” he says.

“Everybody’s a volunteer regardless of your position, so all the money goes to the people who really need to be helped.”

As Dr. Emil prepares for his next trip, he encourages others interested in donating their time to reach out and volunteer through

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