Onboard Cruise Ship Doctor Visiting the onboard doctor iStock / vadimguzhva
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9 Things You Need to Know About Cruise Ship Doctors

by John Roberts | May 02, 2017

You never want to see the doctor when you're on a cruise vacation, but it's comforting to know they are there if you need them.

Cruise ship doctors and the medical facilities they oversee are equipped to handle a range of maladies you might encounter on your cruise, from minor issues like seasickness, cuts, scrapes, and sprains to more serious injuries and emergencies. But, before you head down to the cruise ship medical center — which is more of an infirmary than a traditional hospital facility — there are a few things you should know.

1. Large ships have surprisingly robust facilities. 
Onboard large cruise ships, doctors hold senior officer status, operate on four- to six-month contracts and are in charge of a staff that includes two to three nurses. (Some mega ships might have two doctors). Medical facilities, which are located on the lower decks of the ship, consist of consulting areas, and exam and treatment rooms.

2. The team is well trained. 
Cruise lines require doctors have all the compulsory training you would expect. This means they need to have completed training at an accredited and recognized school of medicine. These doctors also must have real-world experience and credentials. For example, Carnival Cruise Line physicians must have three years of ER training and hold certifications in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support, and pediatric advanced life support. 

3. The office isn't staffed around the clock. 
Cruise ship medical staff are on call 24 hours, but the medical center is only open during the day. Typically, on large ships, it's staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with doctor's hours spanning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. That said, hours vary by ship and itinerary so you should call the front desk before you head down.

4. They have more equipment than you might imagine. 
Passengers most commonly visit cruise ship doctors with complaints relating to seasickness, cold and flu symptoms, headaches, or minor injuries from slips and falls. But doctors are also able to stabilize and treat patients with more serious ailments. The cruise ship infirmary on large ships features diagnostic and lab-test equipment like backboards for immobilization, defibrillators, cardiac monitors, X-ray and EKG machines, and oxygen. In emergencies such as heart attacks, the ship's physician oversees the evacuation of a passenger to an onshore hospital.

5. It's not free. 
Over-the-counter meds such as those that treat cough, cold and stomach ailments are available at the medical center for purchase. On most ships, you also can buy seasickness pills at about $4 for four pills. If you need to use any additional medical services, you should expect to pay. The staff will charge it right to your sail-and-sign card. (Not as fun as ordering the drink of the day, though, is it?)

John Roberts

John Roberts is a New Jersey-based writer for ShermansCruise who worked at The Virginian-Pilot.

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