Sea Mercy Tropical Medicine Elective

A Collaboration with the Palmetto Health Emergency Medicine Residency Program


Sea Mercy is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2012 with the goal of bringing free health care to the remote islands of the South Pacific. Operating from our fleet of “Floating Health Care Clinics” (FHCC) vessels (large sailing catamarans), we have engaged the international sailing community, the international health care community, and the health ministries of our island nation partners in order to bring this much needed care to the thousands of remote inhabited islands. Sea Mercy’s goal is to establish recurring visits to the same islands providing health screening, preventative care, maintenance of chronic conditions, and treatment of acute illnesses. The tropical medicine elective is a partnership between Sea Mercy and the Palmetto Health Emergency Medicine Residency Program that provides a unique educational experience in international medicine.


Volunteering with Sea Mercy is a challenging educational experience. Volunteers spend a minimum of 2 weeks living on a large sailboat while traveling among remote islands in the South Pacific. Sea Mercy currently serves The Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Fiji. Each vessel typically visits 3-4 islands per week. Clinic schedules are greatly influenced by the weather and require volunteers to be flexible. The islands visited are typically small and minimally populated, sometimes with as few as 40 people living on the island. Getting from the boat to the island typically involves a short trip in a small dinghy and may require you to get wet. Depending on the size of the island, clinics may last anywhere from 2-5 hours. Community health inspections and home visits are common components of a clinic day. You will work alongside local staff (nurses, pharmacists, and sometimes physicians) who will help provide translation and act as the cultural liaison.


1. Provide medical care to include health screening, preventative care, maintenance of chronic conditions, and treatment of acute illnesses.
2. Participate in teaching local staff.
3. Learn about tropical diseases specific to the South Pacific islands and apply this knowledge to patient care.
4. Develop competence in low-cost interventions to treat common medical conditions.
5. Develop competence in the practice of medicine in a resource-limited environment.
6. Develop administrative and leadership skills necessary for the practice of international medicine.
7. Learn about health care delivery in Polynesian culture.


1. Applicants must have a license to practice medicine. Limited or restricted licenses may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
2. Residents from all specialties are encouraged to apply.
3. Applicants must be in good standing in their residency program.
4. Medical students may apply; they must be accompanied by a supervising physician.
5. Minimum elective time is 2 weeks.


All of your expenses are tax-deductible. Depending on your city of origin, flights to the South Pacific islands average about $1500. The program cost is a maximum of $1995 per person, and there must be a minimum of 2 volunteers per 2-week rotation (you can bring your spouse or a family member). Larger groups can decrease the cost per person to as low as $1,430. The program cost includes all your needs while on the boat (3 meals per day) and is designed to fund the boat’s supplies, operating costs and maintenance. Sea Mercy is also able to assist you with fundraising for your trip by creating Personal Fundraising Page.

What to Expect

Expect the unexpected at every stop. Just like a day at the office or hospital, every day on the FHCC vessel brings something new. From an incredible sunrise or sunset, a pod of whales or dolphins, or a new remote village. Whatever the day brings, will be a memory that we hope you will treasure and share with others.

1. Accommodations - Our sailing catamarans range from 45 to 65 feet in length and can carry from 4-8 volunteers. We have a few single bunks, but most will require you to share a queen cabin so bring your spouse or bring a family member.
2. Food - The food will be delicious and you will never be hungry for very long, but we are limited to what is available in the markets of our island nations.
3. Destinations - You will be sailing through one of four remote island groups; Ha’apai (Tonga), Vava’u (Tonga), Lau Group (Fiji), Yasawa Group (Fiji). Although each group consists of 12-30+ islands, we will visit only 5-8 per rotation.
4. Culture - You will get to experience what the Tonga & Fiji cultures were most like in the distant past and learn from you host health ministry staff working with you.
5. Weather - Sun, rain, wind, and calm (possible all in one day), all wrapped in a 70-85 degree warm blanket called the South Pacific.

Application Information

Links to download the Application and program brochures are available at the bottom of this page. For more information on developing your independent study or international medicine elective, contact the course director (contact information listed below) with any questions and prior to application submission:

Peyton Hassinger, MD
Medical Director & Residency Coordinator, Sea Mercy
Emergency Physician, Carolina Care
Wilderness Medicine Faculty, Palmetto Health Richland Department of Emergency Medicine

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