Medicine aboard luxury cruise liners, a doctors tale.
Welcome to the niche world of maritime medicine, specifically Cruise ship medicine. It is strange to me that many physicians around the globe have never really considered or
heard of this niche speciality. As a South African doctor, it is deeply
imbedded in our medical culture. As soon as the kids finish up 6 years of
medical studies, they endure a grueling 2 years of internship, followed by
another most educational year of community service. South Africas 1st world
medical facilities (almost), coupled with a lack of resources and 3rd world
population dynamic, makes it the perfect learning environment for a junior
doctor. South African doctors are in my opinion, (I have worked for years with
practitioners around the globe), the best general practitioners in the world.
SA docs have been exposed to almost every
medical speciality, more importantly they have
actively practiced within these fields. For
example, every SA Intern has performed their
own caesarean section delivery(they need to do
a minimum of 20 to fulfill requirements). In most
developed countries you would need to have
many years of practice in the speciality of
Obstetrics and Gynecology before being
awarded this great privilege.
So... We are great General Practitioners at a
young age... So what? Well, this just so happens
to be the perfect recipe for entering the niche
speciality of maritime medicine.
Cruise ship medicine, in essence, is like
practicing rural medicine. With a twist, because
on most Cruise Liners you will find surprisingly
robust medical facilities. Your typical medical
center aboard one of these luxury liners is not
very different from a small hospital or emergency
department. You can expect to find an array of
diagnostic equipment which includes but is not
limited to, digital x-ray machines, point of care ultrasound, an on board
laboratory capable of providing surprisingly large array of tests,
ophthalmoscopy slit lamps and more. Treatment facilities include, a room with
basic ICU capabilities, resuscitation bay, a minor procedures room, isolation
rooms, and other treatment rooms.
Who works the decks?
There are 3 types of doctors you can find aboard a cruise ship. The young, fresh, out
of the battle fields of South Africa, emergency room doc. These guys and gals
typically work the industry for 1-4 years before deciding that it is almost impossible to
have a normal family life living out at sea, they then move on and progress to their
desired niche, always reminiscing of the good old cruise days. The second kind are
the old timers. They are usually retired docs in their mid 60s, looking to cruise the
world with their significant other while still keeping their skills and mind sharp. Last
but not least you will find the insanely interesting, and generally just insane, career
cruise ship doc. These folks fell in love with this unique lifestyle, enjoy fast paced
action and adventure, have not only travelled, but have lived and worked in every
corner of the globe. You will always hear an interesting story from these folks.
Why Cruise Ship Medicine?
Let’s get into the many pros of practicing medicine aboard a cruise ship. Firstly the pay. This is not limited to
doctors, as all cruise ship personnel get paid well in comparison to what they would make on land.
Additionally the pay comes in the form of a strong
currency, like USD, Euros, or British Pounds. This is
obviously appealing to people who come from
economically unstable countries.
In many instances the pay can be fully tax exempt.
This is dependent on the laws in your country of
origin and time spent outside of the country, ( you
need to be working out of the country for at least 6
months of the year).
Lets not forget that every cent you make, can be
safely stockpiled in your bank account. While being
on board you incur zero costs(if you so choose).
Everything is taken care of, your accommodation,
food, entertainment, laundry, and more.
The cruise ship working environment is what i would
call, para-military in its structure. There are officers, ranks, and different privileges for higher ranked personnel.
The physician on board is a senior officer (at least having 3 shoulder stripes). This means you would be
entitled to the full array of luxuries provided. A large beautiful living quarter(with 24 hour room service menu),
meals in any restaurant the luxury vessel has to offer, access to all facilities aboard the vessel (the spa, gym,
swimming pool, sporting activities, and more depending on the ship).
Now the real cool stuff. The travel.
Many of these vessels travel to the most exotic and remote corners of the globe. In a just a few years of work,
you can experience and see a large portion of this earth. Sure, its more like an experience “tasting menu”, as
you wont be able to fully immerse yourself in the culture because of limited shore leave.
Generally speaking you will have about 6-12 hours to leave the ship and explore the destination(At times you
will have 24 hours). Spending the day in Tallinn or Palma de Mallorca will leave you with a sense of wanting
more, and that is just fine... Your work schedule will allow you to indulge in as much travel and adventure as
you please. Doctors typically work a contract of between 10-20 weeks. When this is over, you will revel in a
8-12 week vacation.
Ever wondered what its like to live like a rockstar? These folks will tell you all about it.