In this universe of HMOs, PPOs, tummy tucks, breast enlargements, reality-show doctors/ celebrities, and “extreme makeovers” it’s hard to imagine there was ever any basis for the wholesome smiling Marcus Welby providing down-home healthcare in the popular Marcus Welby, M.D. television series of the ’70s.
In the opening credits, a motivated and concerned Welby walks briskly to his car, black bag in hand, speeding off to the business of assisting his community, armed with his vast medical knowledge and endless reservoir of compassion.
It could be argued that somewhere along the line, the image of the M.D. in the collective public mind has been cheapened or perhaps they’re simply no longer romanticized as they once were. Too often we hear stories about liability and malpractice and fewer about nobility and ethics.
But on March 29th, an idealistic doctor from the Santa Monica area named Ben La Brot, will set sail from Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey on a 42-foot aluminum sloop to provide healthcare to impoverished people in some of the most remote areas of the world.
La Brot, 32, with a crew of five, will provide free ten-day clinics onshore to treat in-need people during a 12-month mission that he hopes will blossom into a 51-country global circumnavigation to provide relief to thousands of people throughout the world.
The project is entitled “Floating Doctors” and they assert that it is the “world’s first globally-mobile, self-contained medical aid and research vessel.”
In July, La Brot returned from practicing medicine in Ireland with a fresh perspective and a lot of ambition. As a young doctor arriving back home, he looked at his career options and immediately set his sights on helping those who have bleak opportunities for procuring medical assistance. With a lifelong background in boating, La Brot began to consider how these two talents could coexist and benefit others.
“I was assuming that I would work as a doctor and go on some short medical missions here or there, but over the last year and a half or so, I started looking at the way medical missions were being done and began to think about how they could be improved or maybe a totally new type of medical delivery,” says La Brot. “I started thinking, there are plenty of doctors working in hospitals doing their thing, but there’s such a shortage of any medical care in the developing world.”
La Brot has backpacked through such countries as Thailand, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe providing help, and he realized that traveling by boat could be a means by which to access some more remote areas and carry more supplies.
“It is intensely personally gratifying to be able to find [and help] somebody in the middle of nowhere who has no opportunity for any kind of relief from whatever they’re suffering from,” says La Brot of his previous missions.
During those outings La Brot began to think more specifically about how he could maximize the benefit of his service to these people and communities. True to the adage, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life,” La Brot has involved the philosophy of preventive behavior and medical awareness into the fabric of his plan.
“After coming back from the developing world I decided that I would return with a much bigger backpack and have it mean something,” La Brot says. “I started looking at ways to maximize the long-term medical benefits while reducing the initial investments. I’ve designed our program so that we will not only be providing acute medical care, but also be trying to get the most bang for our buck.”
La Brot and his team plan to make more long-term contributions to these communities than simply on-site medical care. As an example, he describes introducing portable water filtration systems that can provide relief from the many health hazards that contaminated water can deliver. He and his team also hope to bring awareness in the form of nutritional practices and educate people in more sophisticated prenatal concepts.
Currently, they plan to make the trip down the North American coast on into the Polynesian Islands, with many stops along the way, in a 42-foot IOR racer named Blue Norther. They are prepared, but as the project becomes a reality, La Brot says he is open to finding a bigger boat if the opportunity presents itself.
Floating Doctors is also still in need of funding and/or any donations that would make the mission more successful.
“We need to raise $60,000 before we leave,” says La Brot. “We have all our medications and medical supplies, but will gladly accept more — that will allow us to treat more patients and provide more services. We have a boat, but we are working hard to acquire the donation of a larger boat and would sell our current vessel, using the funds for operating costs to see more patients.”
He continued, “We are also looking for doctors or other clinicians who would like to meet us en route to donate their services in our mobile tented clinic.”
Regardless of what they are able to raise between now and March 29th, the team will depart and begin a process that will last for the next 12 months. If the mission is successful, La Brot and his team will return and develop an even larger project to assist and provide medical care for the disadvantaged in developing countries.
To make contributions or contact Floating Doctors, go to www .floatingdoctors.com/.