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The Wondering Doctor



This is easily my most frequently asked question. What are the requirements to becoming a cruise ship doctor? What kind of experience and qualifications do i need to secure an expedition or a cruise? To answer these questions i will delve a little into our patient demographics, and what kind of scenarios you are likely to encounter. A normal luxury cruise liner will carry anywhere between 2000 and 6680 lives (Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas is the largest in the world with the latter head count). An expedition vessel is a lot smaller, from tens to a few hundred people. On a cruise ship you have 2 distinct types of patient demographic. About 66% would be your guests(the good folks at the buffet). And 33% would be crew members. The on board medical team are responsible for the health care and well-being of all of these people.


Crew members, lest we forget, are out at sea for long periods of time, and as the healthcare team on-board, you will be their primary health provider. Crew members are generally on the “young” end of the age spectrum. The median age is approximately 35 years old, however ages range from 18 to 65 yrs. In order to confidently care for these patients you would need to have some experience in family medicine or internal medicine. Life threatening medical emergencies among this population group is typically rare. In this group, you are looking at a split of about 95% family medicine, and 5% Emergency medicine. (These are estimates based on my subjective experience) The other 66% of people on board are your guests. As many might already know, the bulk of guests within the cruise ship industry are old folks. Just how old depends on the cruise liner and itinerary, but many ships have an AVERAGE guest age of 70+. These beautiful people DO NOT want to come and see you. They want to enjoy their cruise experience with never setting foot in the medical center(and we always hope this is the case). However, when they do come, a significant proportion of consultations are medical emergencies of differing severity (You will typically need to medically evacuate a patient 2-3 times per week). From hip fractures and dislocation, to strokes, Myocardial Infarcts, head injuries and much MUCH more. (Seriously, this surprises even the most seasoned ER doc). I would say about 40% of these consultations are emergency situations of differing severity.





Requirements for Cruise Ship Doctor employment


The bare minimum requirements needed to join a ship (for most

recruiters), are as follows.

1. A valid Medical Degree (must be from a university on the World Directory of Medical Schools) www.wdoms.org/ to check if you qualify

2. A Valid Medical License in your country

3. At least 3 years of post graduate experience

4. ACLS, PALS, ATLS (or equivalent)

5. Police clearance certificate


Factors that would make you a likely candidate (in order of importance)


1. Emergency medicine experience (highly recommended)

2. Family medicine or Internal Medicine experience

3. Great communication and people skills

4. Previous experience with Maritime medicine

5. Diploma/ or more in Emergency medicine

6. A good mastery of the English Language

7. Ability to function well within a team


If you have loads of ER experience, but haven’t been exposed to much family medicine or internal medicine, you shouldn’t be too concerned. You can always “uptodate”, the optimal treatment for an otitis media, or fungal skin infection. Not so easy to do for a cardiac emergency. If your CV has ticked most of these boxes, you might just be one step away from your medical adventure.


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