Sail the High Seas as a Cruise Ship Nurse

Combining your love of travel with your love for nursing and jetting off to another country to live and work can be a little intimidating. Not only will you have to apply for a nursing license and a Visa, but you’ll have to adapt to another country’s customs and learn their medical system. The entire process can leave you feeling a little anxious about whether it's the right move for you, personally and professionally. But, it can be an amazing adventure! If you’re not tied down by many responsibilities in the states, consider embarking as a nurse on board a cruise ship.

Meet the Team

Medical teams onboard a cruise ship are often fairly small, generally consisting of only doctors and registered nurses; however, depending on the cruise line, some teams also include paramedics, medical secretaries and physiotherapists who work in the medispa onboard. Unfortunately, it does not seem that cruise ships have a need for nurse practitioners or other advanced practice nurses, although there are chief nursing positions available for experienced ship nurses who are looking to advance their careers at sea. And, even if you are an APRN, you can choose to work in a strictly nursing role if you're drawn to the adventure and lifestyle required by cruise ship nursing. 

The Clinical Setting

All major ocean liners have a walk-in clinic for guests and crew members who are in need of basic medical care. In addition, they also have a well-equipped medical center with critical care areas, X-ray units, lab facilities and a pharmacy. While you’ll certainly treat your fair share of mild illnesses ranging from sea sickness to bad sunburns, you’ll undoubtedly treat patients with more acute issues like cardiac arrests and other serious traumas. In the event of a serious situation with a patient, the medical team may prepare the patient to be transferred to a shore side facility depending on their condition, the geographic location of the ship and the capabilities of the nearest facility on land.

Requirements and Qualifications

Given the variety of the cases you might encounter as a cruise ship nurse, you must have a broad nursing experience and be able to manage anything from acute medical emergencies and trauma patients to general practice cases. Though the specific requirements vary depending upon the cruise line you wish to work for, you must have anywhere from one to three years of post-graduation work experience in emergency medicine or an acute care setting.

Cruise ship nurses must also have valid ACLS and BLS certifications prior to joining the vessel. Your current nursing license is sufficient to provide care onboard; it must be in good-standing and remain valid throughout the duration of your contract with the cruise line.

Pros and Cons of the Job

Traveling the world and visiting exotic locations is certainly a big perk of working as a cruise ship nurse. Physicians and nurses usually have a private cabin and free meals. In addition to competitive pay, the cruise line will most often handle the travel arrangements and pay for your airfare to and from the ship.  

While there are certainly some unbeatable perks, bear in mind that it is still a demanding job and is not much different than working in a busy emergency room; and because there is not any additional support staff such as technicians and aides aboard the ship, you will have quite a bit more responsibilities than you would in a traditional clinical setting on land which means more hands-on interactions with your patients and more administrative duties. You will also be required to take call and in some cases, you may be required to work twelve hour shifts. Additionally, most ships do not allow medical staff to have access to guest areas like the pools and casinos. You also need to be prepared to commit to a contract of at least six months in length.

How to Apply

Unfortunately, there have been agencies and individuals that have fraudulently represented themselves as being authorized to hire on behalf of the top cruise liners. If working as a cruise ship nurse is on your list as a dream job, it’s best to apply directly with the cruise line of your choice or through the authorized recruitment company or hiring partner for the fleet, which is always listed on the cruise ship’s website.