Working as a cruise ship doctor isn’t easy work – the days can be long, you’ll work without a day off for long periods of time, and you have to be ready to deal with anything.
And yet, cruise ships are always equipped with the medical staff they need – so it can’t be that bad. There are a lot of perks to being a cruise ship doctor, so if you’re working as a medical professional already and want to see the world, it might be worth considering.
Do Cruise Ships Hire Doctors?
All cruise ships hire doctors. Cruise lines with a minimum of 100 passengers are required to have doctors on board, although smaller ships tend to have some form of medical professional available as well. Nurses are also employed on larger cruise ships.
Think about it – the largest cruise ships have almost 7,000 passengers on board, as well as the crew. That’s a lot of people, so the odds of someone getting sick or suffering an injury aren’t small. There needs to be someone available to keep people safe, at least until they can receive further treatment on land.
And a sick patient left untreated can also make more people on board sick if they aren’t properly evaluated and quarantined. So, employing doctors is definitely worthwhile for cruise lines for the improved experience of all guests and the removal of liability too.
Read more: What kind of doctors do cruise ships have?
How Much Do Cruise Ship Doctors Make?
There are normally two levels of doctor on a cruise ship – with senior doctors earning from $10,000 to $15,000 per month, averaging around $12,000. Junior doctors will make between $7,500 and $10,000 per month, averaging around $8,500.
It varies by cruise line, experience, and by the size of the ship you’re working on. But it’s important to note that contracts generally only last for around four months at a time, with two contracts permitted every year. This means you get four months of vacation time as well.
Taking the average monthly cruise ship doctor salary of $12,000 (for a senior doctor), working for 8 months per year, that’s an average yearly salary of $96,000.
Meanwhile, the average annual salary for an emergency physician in the US working on land is $343,300 per year – significantly more than working on a cruise ship (source).
That doesn’t tell the full story, though, because working on a cruise ship also gets you a number of additional benefits:
- Free accommodation for the duration of your contract
- Free food
- Free healthcare insurance
- Free travel to and from the cruise ship at the start and end of your contract
- Free housekeeping
There are very few expenses you need to pay. You don’t have to worry about utility bills, food, or accommodation and you even get your room cleaned for you. And as a cruise doctor, you get officer accommodations – some of the nicest on the ship (for the crew, anyway).
The one thing you may need to pay for is WiFi access since not all cruise lines offer this for free to their crew. But you can use the internet cafe on-board for free if there’s no charge. And you don’t need to pay for internet access while you’re working and doing admin, of course.
Read more: How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?
What Type of Doctor Works on a Cruise Ship?
Cruise ship doctors are multi-talented and usually come from a background of working in an emergency department of a hospital. They must be trained in primary care and diagnosis, emergency care, anaesthetic and minor surgery.
Family cruise lines also need doctors with the proper certification for pediatric care – both with the training to look after children, and the background checks to prove that they are allowed to.
A cruise ship physician must be able to handle all kinds of situations at sea – one day could have you diagnosing a dental infection, while the next may see you removing glass from a wound. And on rare, stressful days you may need to stabilise a patient suffering a cardiac arrest and prepare them to be airlifted to the hospital.
How Do You Become a Doctor on a Cruise Ship?
To become a doctor on a cruise ship, you normally need at least three years of experience working in emergency care or a similar role, with evidence of your experience in each field. You can then apply using cruise lines’ job listings or just get in touch to register your interest.
You must be able to provide evidence of your experience in minor surgery, primary diagnosis, advanced trauma care (for senior doctors) and administering anaesthesia. Doctors on cruise ships are often working alone, so need to be trusted to handle anything.
Positions for cruise ship doctors don’t come up often – there are only ever one or two per ship. But they aren’t usually a job for life either. So if you can’t see a job online that you want to apply for, just get in touch with the cruise lines that you want to work for.
Suggested read: The 5 Best Cruise Lines To Work For
They’ll normally take your details, and get in touch when a suitable position comes up. It may take a couple of years (so keep searching in the meantime), but it’s easier for them to speak to people they know who want to become a cruise ship doctor than it is to sift through applicants.
What Is It Like Being a Cruise Ship Doctor?
Cruise ship doctors normally work 7 days a week without any days off for the duration of their contract – although occasional days off may be available. Days are long, 9-12 hours normally, and doctors are on-call 24/7 in case of emergencies.
Life at sea isn’t for everyone – the lack of a true day off, and being constantly on-call, can be stressful. But at the same time, senior doctors are looked after on a ship with their own cabin (most other crew members share rooms), plus you can enjoy your expenses being taken care of and just bank your salary.
A typical day will normally involve two open-door clinics. These may both be for passengers, or there may be one for crew and one for passengers. But around those you’ll be making visits to guests confined to their stateroom, you’ll be writing up reports, and answering emails – all the normal admin that comes with being a doctor.
When the ship is in port, you may be allowed to disembark and walk around, provided there are other doctors on board covering the ship in case of emergencies. Generally with two doctors on a ship, one is working during port visits while the other is free to explore, so you’ll be able to see half of the ports on a typical cruise.
And because your contract runs for four months, that’s a lot of travelling the world that you can do around the work.
The Bottom Line
Cruise ship doctor roles are good for those with a positive attitude and the energy to work every day. If you want to see the world and you’ve got the necessary experience, then they can be a great way to work whilst you travel.
But be aware that there is a lot of pressure, too – with responsibility for thousands of guests and crew. And in an emergency, you can’t rely on an ambulance crew being with you quickly. You need to be cool and level-headed.
If it sounds like the role for you, then why not start getting in touch with cruise lines to register your interest?
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