Following within the footsteps of my trailblazing medical missionary grandmother

Following within the footsteps of my trailblazing medical missionary grandmother

Dr Rachel Buckingham on board the Global Mercy, which is docked in Senegal for 5 months.(Photo: Mercy Ships)

Around 100 years in the past, Rachel Buckingham’s grandmother grew to become a physician at a time when some universities within the UK nonetheless barred girls from qualifying as physicians.

Little did Dr Alice Muriel Griffiths from Cardiff, Wales, know that she would encourage her descendants to mix medication and religion as she headed off to India as a missionary to deal with sufferers with leprosy within the Twenties.

Muriel, as she most well-liked to be known as, belonged to a exceptional household within the historical past of the Baptist motion in Wales. The Griffiths household has generations of ministers who went on to work in Wales, England and even the USA.

Today, her granddaughter Rachel, additionally a religious Christian, is the lead orthopaedic surgeon volunteering for Christian charity Mercy Ships onboard the world’s first purpose-built civilian hospital ship – the Global Mercy.

Earlier this month, she carried out the first-ever surgical procedure in one of many brand-new state-of-the-art working theatres on the ship docked in Senegal, West Africa, for the following 5 months.

Rachel, who has been Consultant Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon on the Oxford University Hospitals Trust since 2007, mentioned: “My grandmother was a physician and a trailblazer. In the Twenties she went off as an single girl to India as a medical missionary.

“It was she who impressed me. My father, one other inspiration, was additionally a surgeon. But listening to what she did, together with her work with leprosy sufferers, made me determine, aged 10, that I needed to check medication. And I didn’t need to do the rest from then on!”

Muriel was one of many first girls to graduate in medication on the Royal Free Medical School in London, earlier than heading to India the place she cared for many who had been sick and met one other Baptist, the Rev Frank Fellows, who had been there since 1915.

Dr Alice Muriel Griffiths

The pair married and spent a lot of the following 20-plus years there the place Muriel travelled to the properties of those that wanted medical assist in addition to holding every day surgical procedures exterior their residence.

They moved in 1931 to Cuttack, within the east of India, the place Rev Fellows grew to become the Principal of the Theological College and Muriel cared for lepers on the close by lepers’ hospital. Through her efforts, a chapel was constructed on the hospital and it grew to become a centre for Christian social work and outreach.

She was identified for electrifying the Welsh Baptist Union together with her talks.

Sadly, Rachel’s grandmother died in 1977 when Rachel was nonetheless younger, however her formidable spirt left a mark on her.

First surgical procedure

Fast ahead to 2023, and Rachel is a part of an historic second herself, as she performs the primary surgical procedure onboard a ship which is predicted to remodel greater than 150,000 lives via surgical procedure alone throughout its 50-year lifespan.

In addition, hundreds of African medical professionals will obtain coaching and mentoring with the purpose of multiplying impression inside their communities.

While mother-of-three Rachel performs her surgical procedures, she might be coaching an African orthopaedic surgeon alongside her, who (regardless of being from Morocco initially,) is dedicated to staying in Senegal to deal with the Senegalese individuals.

Rachel, 55, mentioned: “Senegal has not acquired a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon. I’m hopeful he might be their first.”

Rachel and her husband Rob, a professor and robotics engineer, had been decided to volunteer for Mercy Ships since first visiting one in every of its ships whereas it was docked at Bristol.

Rachel mentioned: “We visited and had a tour of the Anastasis. We had been working a church youth group at the moment and we took a few of the children to point out them. Mercy Ships had been on my thoughts however we had been each busy with work. Once the kids had been rising up and leaving, I made a decision to use.”

They first acquired the chance in 2019. Rob volunteered within the eating room whereas Rachel went into paediatric orthopaedic surgical care.

Stark variations

Rachel mentioned: “Coming out right here you discover some stark variations. The lack of surgical care individuals have right here. We deal with kids with such extreme deformities as a result of they might by no means be capable to get to that time at residence – we might have handled them in youth. People are simply so grateful for the prospect to get surgical procedure.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the NHS. Whatever issues our NHS has – it is superb. People can stroll in and get free medical care and we should always by no means take that without any consideration. And we’ve so many medical doctors.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, 9 out of 10 individuals haven’t any entry to protected surgical procedure and Rachel mentioned the necessity is critically apparent.

“What retains me coming again is the necessity. It’s the flexibility to coach native healthcare staff and make a distinction.

“Mercy Ships actually needs to do itself out of a job. You go into medication to have an effect, so right here we’ve a large impression.

“Mercy Ships is a breath of recent air. It is so skilled. People come from everywhere in the world who’re correctly educated and vetted, and also you see an unimaginable can-do perspective to work collectively to alter lives.”


Just as Rachel’s grandmother mixed her religion and medication in a male-dominated background, Rachel nonetheless encounters some similarities.

Rachel mentioned the dearth of females in senior positions throughout her medical coaching by no means held her again – if something it made her extra decided.

“As a junior physician I by no means labored for a girl – so I by no means had a job mannequin in surgical procedure. Orthopaedics could be very male-dominated, and I discovered that some males felt they needed to be a really stereotypical surgeon. But for me it was liberating being a girl as I discovered my very own approach. I’m me.”

Just as her grandmother did, Rachel’s dedication and braveness is seeing her change the lives of these in pressing want.

If you have an interest in remodeling lives like Rachel, visit here for extra info.



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