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Nursing grad called to serve

Nurse Anesthetist Brittany Blake on Mercy Ship. photo by Katie Callow

When Brittany Blake, ’05, ’09, decided to pursue a career in medicine, she knew her skills would allow her to help others in a very special way. Blake couldn’t have known then, however, just how much of an impact she would have on her patients and just how far across the globe her passion to serve would take her.

Blake, who earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of North Florida, was on a flight back to Jacksonville in 2015 when she read an article in an in-flight magazine about a program called Mercy Ships.

The nonprofit organization, established in 1978, operates four ships that travel to areas of the world where people lack access to quality medical care. Over the years, the “floating hospitals” have performed more than 2.5 million surgical procedures – from cleft lip repairs to tumor removals — at no cost to indigent patients.

For the last seven years, Blake, who also received a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice diploma from Virginia Commonwealth University, has worked at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville and is currently the lead cardiac, thoracic and abdominal transplant Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Last fall, Blake volunteered two weeks of her time to serve aboard the Africa Mercy ship in the West African port of Cotonou, Benin, as part of an all-volunteer medical staff and crew of 400.

One of the most profound experiences she had was working with an 18-year-old pregnant woman with a grapefruit-sized dental tissue tumor blocking her mouth. The tumor caused her extreme difficulty swallowing and, as a result, she was severely malnourished.

“Seeing how much of a difference these surgeries make in the lives of patients, and seeing their tears of joy from having people want to help was truly life-changing,” said Blake.

Blake credits her training at UNF with giving her the foundation to begin her medical career.

“Learning from experienced practitioners in the clinical and academic setting helped me to not only learn the science of anesthesia, but also the ‘art’ of anesthesia,” Blake said. “Many things cannot be taught strictly in books and must be learned as hands-on skills in the field. I was able to obtain both of these necessary pieces to the puzzle through my training at UNF.”

This October, Blake will work on the Africa Mercy again and is grateful that she is in a position to do so.

“It was a wonderful experience to work with people from so many different cultures,” Blake said. “While we are very different in many ways, our motivation and desire to help heal those who are hurting is a common bond we share.”