Duties: Treat passengers and crew on a cruise ship for illness and injury
Alternate Title(s): Maritime Physician; Cruise Ship Doctor
Employment Prospects: Fair to good
Advancement Prospects: Fair
Best Geographical Location(s): Any locations that cruise ships sail, including the Caribbean, the Atlantic/ Pacific coast, Alaska, the Mediterranean, and more
Education and Training—In addition to a bachelor’s degree, medical degree and residency training
Experience—At least three years of post-residency work experience
Special Skills and Personality Traits—Excellent analytical and diagnostic skills; strong communication, interpersonal, and listening skills; scientific knowledge
Special Requirements—Medical degree and board certification in a specialty such as emergency medicine, family medicine, or internal medicine, and advanced life support and advanced cardiac life support certification are required
Senior Physician or Fleet Physician
Cruise Ship Physician
Emergency Department or Family Physician
Large cruise ships can have up to 5,000 people on board at any given time, including passengers and crew. Some of these people will require medical attention during each voyage. This care is provided by cruise ship physicians, who treat the illnesses and injuries of cruise ship passengers and crew.
Two Cruise Ship Physicians and four nurses are typical on a large cruise ship. Cruise ship physicians work a combination of office hours (four to six hours per day) and on-call hours, during which they must carry a pager in case of an emergency. During office hours, they treat a wide range of issues, including on-ship conditions like seasickness and cuts and bruises, as well as pre-existing issues like sore throats, common colds, influenza, and more.
Cruise ship physicians report seeing patients of all ages with minor concerns to serious and severe illnesses requiring immediate treatment. Nurses assist Cruise Ship Physicians by treating passengers and crew when possible and only forwarding cases that are absolutely necessary.
Most large ships that sail for a week or more are outfitted with cutting-edge medical technology such as defibrillators, external pacemakers, ECG machines, ventilators, cardiac monitoring systems, and infusion pumps. They also have wheelchairs, stretchers, spinal boards, and immobilization devices on board. The ship’s infirmary may include in-patient beds, emergency rooms, X-ray rooms, critical care wards, treatment rooms, and medication dispensaries. Dispensaries stock a wide range of medications, including thrombolytic for heart attack victims.
While infirmaries are equipped to handle a wide range of medical emergencies, Cruise Ship Physicians prefer to stabilise patients and get them back on land as soon as possible. Patients may need to travel by medical helicopter to the nearest land-based medical facility on occasion. In an emergency where helicopters are not available, the ship may have to change course to arrive at a different port sooner than expected. In order to facilitate care in these circumstances, cruise ship physicians form partnerships with hospitals in the United States as well as the countries they visit.
Additional duties for Cruise Ship Physicians may include:
- prescribing and dispensing medicine such as antibiotics
- examining patients
- performing minor surgeries
- diagnosing illnesses
- supervising nurses
- mingling with passengers more informally
- documenting follow-up services and notes for patients’ records
One of the most serious concerns for Cruise Ship Physicians is an outbreak of bacteria or a virus on board, which could be fatal. They have the authority to refuse boarding to passengers exhibiting symptoms and to work to ensure that all cleanliness standards for food preparation are met. Cruise ship doctors are also concerned about lawsuits from sick passengers on board, so they must be cautious with all treatment procedures.
Cruise Ship Physicians are able to enjoy free time on board and in port, traveling the world and meeting and treating people of all nationalities. Caring for the crew takes up more time than caring for the passengers, as crew members are on board for up to one year at a time. Cruise ship crews hail from all over the world and Cruise Ship Physicians find that they learn about people of all nationalities.
Contracts range from four to eight months for Cruise Ship Physicians. After completing the first contract, some ships allow Cruise Ship Physicians to bring their spouse and family on board. Those working fulltime may enjoy several weeks off between each contract shift. Most Cruise Ship Physicians are required to wear uniforms during their working hours.
Employment prospects are fair to good for Cruise Ship Physicians. To find job opportunities, they can search both medical journals and cruise ship employment sites. They can also contact cruise lines directly. Some insiders say that the best Cruise Ship Physician jobs are found through word of mouth, with currently employed Physicians who are ready to move on passing along the opportunity to a friend or colleague. Many Cruise Ship Physicians work part-time, while others choose it as a full-time career for several years. Turnover is high in that many Cruise Ship Physicians don’t want to choose the erratic lifestyle for many years, especially if they want to have a family.
Cruise Ship Physicians can advance to become senior physicians or fleet physicians, where they work directly for the cruise line and supervise a variety of shipboard physicians. Others will return to land-based positions such as private practise, academic medicine, and hospital staffing. In addition to cruise ships, there are opportunities at ski and vacation resorts.
Education and Training
Extensive education and training is required for all physicians, including Cruise Ship Physicians. The first educational step is a bachelor’s degree. Students can major in any field, but must take the premed requirements in order to apply to medical school. In addition, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required. For information about the MCAT and applying to medical school, see www.aamc.org/students/mcat.
After four years of medical school, physicians are required to complete a residency in a specialized area. As residents, they work as physicians in a hospital under the supervision of senior doctors. After completing an internship and residency lasting between two and five years, they are eligible to become board certified in that specialty area. Most Cruise Ship Physicians are board certified in family practice, emergency medicine, internal medicine, or critical care.
The Cruise Ship To practise medicine, physicians must have a degree and a licence, as well as board certification or the international equivalent in a specialty. Certification in advanced life support (ALS) and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) is also required.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Cruise Ship Physicians must have excellent diagnostic skills in order to determine patients’ ailments and treatment plans. Knowledge of science and medicine is required. Good communication and interpersonal skills enable Cruise Ship Physicians to work with passengers and crews from all over the world. While English fluency is required, knowledge of other languages can also be beneficial.