Come Sail Away! Discover Cruise Ship Nursing

Chelsea Kwong, senior

Does your dream job involve travel to exotic places? Are you called to a life on the sea? Do you want this life while still being able to work as a nurse? Being a nurse on a cruise ship may be the job that you are looking for.

So what does a job like this entail? The unique nature of this work environment requires the nurse to be very independent and creative, often having to rely on limited resources to provide the best patient care as well as experience for all on board. Questions that may run through the cruise ship nurse’s mind during various scenarios include:

“How far are we from land? Whcruise ship nurseere is the closest medical facility? Is it a facility that we can utilize? Do they have the capabilities that we need now? Should we turn the ship around? Should we request a faster run to the next port? Are we in port tomorrow? Or is it a sea day? What is the weather? Can we fly them off the ship? Are we close enough for that option?”3.

There are several concerns that don’t directly apply to the medical situation itself, and the nurse must know how to respond quickly to all of them.

Though cruise ship nursing is not always the vacation that it may appear to be at first glance, those who take their nursing practice to sea often say that the experience has led to professional growth and unforgettable experien
ces. Gary de Beer, a cruise ship nurse recalls many adventures including being evacuated from a ship off the coast of Cape Cod by helicopter while a patient was hemorrhaging.

“You are the accident and emergency department and the intensive care unit rolled into one and there are no specialists to refer to”2, he says.

Since you are out on the ocean with thousands of people in close proximity, the outbreak of various diseases and sicknesses is not incredibly uncommon, and can lead to several patient cases, all of which you (and a small team of medical/nursing personnel) will be responsible for treating and preventing further spread. During times like these, you will be drawing upon your community health experiences to track down the source of the disease and prevent it from spreading to the rest of the ship.

Because this is a job that requires quick thinking and the use of specialized nursing skills, if you’re interested in this type of nursing, some ICU or Critical Care experience would be needed. On Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, one needs to have at least three years of experience working in the emergency room or intensive care unit1. But, if you’re looking for a job that requires a variable environment in fantastic locations with some critical care and epidemiology while feeling the ocean wind in your hair, cruise ship nursing is the life for you!

1Shipboard Employment: Nurse. (2015). Norwegian Cruise Lines. Retrieved from

2de Beer, G. (2014). My experiences as a cruise-ship nurse. Journal of Community Nursing, 28(6), 16-17.

3Clutter, P. & van Boheemen, S. (2007). Cruise ship nursing: An international experience. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 33(1), 65-68.  

Photo from New York Personal Injury Attorneys


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