Salary, benefits and how to get a job

Working as a doctor on a cruise ship is not an easy job – the days can be long, you’ll be working without a day off for long periods of time and you have to be prepared for anything.

And yet, cruise ships are still equipped with the medical staff they need, so it can’t be that bad. There are plenty of benefits to being a doctor on a cruise ship, so if you’re already working as a medical professional 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 also tend to have some form of medical professional available. Nurses are also employed on large cruise ships.

Medical staff on a cruise ship

Think about it, the largest cruise ships have almost 7,000 passengers on board, plus the crew. That’s a lot of people, so the chances of someone getting sick or injured are not low. There must be someone available to keep people safe, at least until they can receive further treatment on land.

And an untreated sick patient can also make more people on board sick if they are not properly assessed and quarantined. Thus, hiring doctors is definitely worth it for cruise lines for improving the experience of all guests and removing liability as well.

Read more: What kind of doctors do cruise ships have?

How much do cruise ship doctors make?

There are normally two levels of doctors on a cruise ship – experienced doctors earning between $10,000 and $15,000 a month, averaging around $12,000. Junior doctors will earn between $7,500 and $10,000 per month, averaging around $8,500.

This varies by cruise line, experience, and the size of the ship you are working on. But it’s important to note that contracts usually only last about four months at a time, with two contracts allowed each year. This means that you also get four months of vacation.

Taking the average monthly salary of $12,000 for a senior doctor, working 8 months a year, this represents an average annual salary of $96,000.

Meanwhile, the average annual salary of an emergency physician in the United States working on land is $343,300 per year, significantly more than on a cruise ship (source).

doctor and patient talking on cruise ship

This does not say it all, because working on a cruise ship also gives you a number of additional advantages:

  • Free hosting for the duration of your contract
  • free food
  • Free health insurance
  • Free travel to and from the cruise ship at the start and end of your contract
  • Free cleaning

There are very few expenses that you need to pay. You don’t have to worry about utility bills, food or accommodation and even have your room cleaned for you. And as a medic, you get officers’ quarters – some of the nicest on the ship (for the crew, anyway).

The only thing you may have to pay for is WiFi access, as not all cruise lines offer it for free to their crew. But you can use the internet cafe on board for free if there is no charge. And you don’t need to pay for internet access while you work and do 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 versatile and have typically worked in a hospital emergency department. They should be trained in primary care and diagnosis, emergency care, anesthesia and minor surgery.

Family cruise lines also need doctors with the appropriate certification for pediatric care – both with training to care for children and background checks to prove they are licensed to do so.

doctor checking child on cruise

Doctors need to be able to handle all kinds of situations at sea – one day you might be diagnosing a dental infection, while the next you might be removing glass from a wound. And on rare stressful days, you may need to stabilize a cardiac arrest patient and prepare them for airlift to 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 in emergency care or a similar role, with proof of your experience in each area. You can then apply using cruise line job postings or simply contact us to register your interest.

Smiling doctor with other doctors

You must be able to justify your experience in minor surgery, primary diagnosis, advanced traumatology (for senior doctors) and anesthesia. Doctors on cruise ships often work alone, so they need to be trusted to handle everything.

Physician positions on cruise ships don’t come up often — there are only ever one or two per ship. But they’re usually not a job for life either. So if you don’t see a job online that you want to apply for, just contact the cruise lines you want to work for.

They will normally take your details and contact you when a suitable position arises. It may take a few years (so keep looking in the meantime), but it’s easier for them to talk to people they know who want to become a cruise doctor than to sift through candidates.

What’s it like to be a doctor on a cruise ship?

Cruise ship doctors normally work 7 days a week with no days off for the duration of their contract – although occasional days off may be available. The days are long, 9 to 12 hours normally, and doctors are on call 24/7 in case of emergency.

hospital bed on a cruise ship

Life at sea isn’t for everyone – not having a proper day off and being constantly on call can be stressful. But at the same time, senior doctors are supported on a ship with their own cabin (most other crew members share rooms), plus you can enjoy having your expenses taken care of and just cash in your salary.

A typical day will normally include two open clinics. These may both be for passengers, or there may be one for crew and one for passengers. But around these you’ll be visiting guests confined to their cabins, writing reports and answering emails – all the normal administration 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 who cover the ship in an emergency. Usually with two doctors on a ship, one works 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 lasts four months, that’s a lot of trips around the world you can do around work.

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 have the necessary experience, they can be a great way to work while you travel.

But know that there is also a lot of pressure – with the responsibility of thousands of guests and crew. And in an emergency, you can’t count on an ambulance team to get you there quickly. You need to be cool and level-headed.

If this sounds like a role for you, then why not start reaching out to cruise lines to register your interest?

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