During the past seven months, Emily and Patrick McHenry have worked as nurses in hospitals such as Yale-New Haven and Johns Hopkins -- prestigious places practicing cutting-edge, First World medicine.
In a few days, they'll be setting foot in a different type of hospital -- one that floats and provides care to the sick and impoverished in Third World nations.
The couple left from Kennewick last week for Seattle, where they'll catch a plane to Conakry, Guinea. Once they reach the West African nation, they'll board the Africa Mercy and spend four months as surgical nurses on the volunteer hospital ship.
The Africa Mercy is part of a fleet operated by nonprofit Mercy Ships, an organization that provides medical care to people in poor, developing nations.
According to the nonprofit, the ship has the capacity to perform 7,000 surgeries per year in its six operating theaters. Examples of surgeries performed include tumor removals, cleft palate repairs and orthopedic operations.
Patrick, a Spokane native, said he looks forward to being able to focus his nursing skills on surgical patients.
"That's one thing I really get a lot of confidence about because it's all surgical nursing," he said. "I thrive in that."
Emily, who is from Kennewick, told the Herald that surgical nursing is predictable and precise, and she finds that appealing.
The couple, both 27, met while they were studying nursing in Spokane -- Patrick at Washington State University Spokane and Emily at Whitworth University.
After they began dating, they discovered they had similar goals for their futures -- to apply their nursing skills to help people around the world.
Emily heard about Mercy Ships from a friend at nursing school, while Patrick came across the nonprofit through an online search when he decided he wanted to volunteer overseas.
Two years ago, they began the lengthy process of applying and preparing to serve on the ship -- a volunteer job that requires them to pay room and board. About 18 months ago, they got married.
They'll spend their entire four months on the Africa Mercy anchored in the harbor at Conakry, Guinea's capital city.
The ship arrived there Thursday for a 10-month stay, according to Mercy Ships.
They're expecting some culture shock when they arrive. For starters, there's a language barrier. Many people in Guinea speak French because the nation once was a French colony, but there also are myriad tribal languages spoken.
And the standard of living is different than the couple is used to as Americans.
"We were told some patients have never flushed a toilet or taken a shower," Patrick said. "It's a totally different patient population and geographical setting."
There also are what many Americans would view as the hazards of working in Africa -- disease such as the cholera epidemic currently affecting Conakry because two-thirds of the population lack sanitation, according to Doctors Without Borders.
Different standards of security that have Patrick nervous about the couple losing their belongings.
But helping people in need is the couple's dream, and they're not being deterred by the lack of Western culture or comforts.
"It's a really tangible thing that we can offer," Emily said. "It is exciting that we have this skill that can be used this way. It crosses all language boundaries."