Nurse Types / Cruise Ship Nurse
What if going to work felt like going on a vacation? In many ways, cruise ship nursing feels that way. Cruise ship nurses travel to exotic locations and spend weeks away from home in accommodations designed for tourists. The global cruise industry welcomed 29.7 million passengers aboard in 2019.
A cruise nurse, or cruise ship nurse, is a registered nurse or nurse practitioner who treats patients onboard cruise ships. This nursing specialty provides a broad range of medical care services to travelers and crew members sailing the oceans each year.
This article will help you understand what cruise ship nursing is all about and how to become a cruise ship nurse in three steps.
- What is a cruise ship nurse?
- What do cruise ship nurses do?
- Where do cruise ship nurses work?
- What are specific types of cruise ship nurses?
- How do you become a cruise ship nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of cruise ship nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for cruise ship nurses?
What is a cruise ship nurse?
A cruise ship nurse is a licensed professional nurse employed by a cruise line to care for ship passengers and crew members. As part of a medical team, they provide general medical care and may administer emergency treatment.
The medical staff live aboard the ship during their contract, which may last 4–6 months. Since they are considered part of the crew, they are prohibited from socially mingling with guests. The living quarters for cruise nurses are usually found on the ship’s lower decks.
Qualities of a successful cruise ship nurse
One unique aspect of cruise nursing is that the employers are in the business of tourism, not healthcare. Thus, there is a greater emphasis on hospitality. Successful cruise ship nurses are passionate about customer service. They must also keep a positive attitude while dealing with difficult or demanding patients.
Nurses on cruise ships work with diverse populations. They must be culturally sensitive since they frequently care for people from different ethnicities and backgrounds.
Cruise ship nurses must also be flexible. Schedules, assignments, and priorities may change, so a good cruise nurse will be able to roll with the waves.
What do cruise ship nurses do?
The cruise ship nurse provides medical nursing services to all passengers and crew members under the supervision of the ship’s doctors.
Cruise ship nurses perform direct care and administrative nursing duties. In addition, they also perform activities that are specific to cruises and may seem unusual to nurses in other fields.
Common responsibilities of cruise ship nurses include tasks such as:
- Administering minor and major emergency care
- Performing lab procedures or COVID-19 testing for crew and passengers
- Triaging patients who visit the medical center
- Visiting patients onboard for treatments such as injections or IV fluids
In addition to direct care, cruise nurses’ administrative responsibilities include:
- Answering calls to the medical center (Infirmary)
- Coordinating shoreside referrals as needed for passengers
- Keeping narcotic counts and supply inventories
- Maintaining crew physicals
- Removing expired medications or supplies
Cruise nurses also have ship-specific duties, including:
- Completing accident reports and maintaining logs for port authorities
- Inspecting and maintaining life-saving equipment
- Scheduling wellness appointments for crew members
- Training and leading teams in fire and lifeboat drills
- Testing ship water samples
Cruise nurses assist the ship’s Captain, Senior Doctor, and Chief Nurse Officer in shipboard health-related matters. This includes outbreak prevention and illness reporting as required by international and national health regulations.
A day in the life of a cruise ship nurse
A day as a cruise ship nurse will depend on the ship’s needs.
Nurses may triage patients with minor concerns such as seasickness. Or, they may be called for serious emergencies such as fractures or lacerations. Passengers might even suffer strokes or heart attacks on board. Cruise nurses must be ready for anything.
While on-duty, cruise ship nurses carry phones or walkie-talkies to respond to the crews’ needs. Most ships average 3–4 nurses, depending on ship size. Usually, a medical team of doctors and nurses works together.
Cruise ships have fully-functioning medical facilities with lab equipment, X-ray machines, pharmacies, and treatment rooms. They even have a morgue that usually holds up to six bodies.
Medical teams arrange evacuation and transport to higher-level facilities in serious emergencies. They also provide patient education, too.
Common conditions treated by cruise ship nurses
Cruise ship nurses treat all ages, from pediatric to older adult patients. Conditions commonly treated by cruise ship nurses include:
- Allergic reactions
- Food poisoning
- Motion sickness
Where do cruise ship nurses work?
Cruise ship nurses work on domestic and international cruise lines. Onboard cruise ships, they work in the medical facilities and throughout the decks.
What are specific types of cruise ship nurses?
When it comes to nursing on a ship, there are different types of cruise nurses.
- Luxury cruise line nurses are the most common type of cruise nurses. Nurses on traditional luxury cruises work for well-known cruise lines such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. The average ship has 2000–3000 passengers. Therefore, luxury cruise nurses are usually part of larger medical teams.
- Boutique cruise ship nurses work for higher-end luxury cruise lines with lower staff-to-passenger ratios and smaller ships. Since they have smaller crews, nurses may have more responsibilities.
- Yacht nurses work aboard the smallest ships for the most elite passengers. Traditional yachts may carry up to 12 passengers, while mega yachts may carry up to 100. With smaller crews, nurses may perform more duties.
How do you become a cruise ship nurse in 3 steps?
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
The first step to being a cruise ship nurse is to become a registered nurse (RN). To be an RN, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the nursing board exam.
Earn a BSN degree
Aspiring nursing students can choose from various programs that will prepare them to take and pass the RN exam. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) may not be sufficient for those who want to be cruise nurses. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is the best choice.
A four-year BSN degree prepares nurses with an education that will prepare them for success in cruise nursing, including courses in leadership and management.
College graduates who want to enter nursing but have a degree in another field should look into accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs.
For those who are already nurses who wish to further their education there is an RN to BSN program which allows you to work while getting your degree.
Pass the NCLEX exam
After earning a nursing degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This test is required to apply for an RN license in your state. To get hired as a cruise nurse, cruise lines require an active nursing license in any state.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
RNs must gain experience that will prepare them for practice onboard a cruise ship.
Helpful Skills and experience
Nurses who have worked in critical care units such as the CVICU or ICU will be more desirable candidates for cruise ship nurse positions. Also, nurses who speak other languages will be helpful to the medical team.
Changing specialty to a cruise ship nurse
If you’re a nurse who wants to change specialties to become a cruise ship nurse, you should consider how the differences will work for you.
Nurses onboard cruise ships may work up to seven days straight, depending on the itinerary. Also, they will likely be on call for emergencies during their time off. The typical cruise ship nurse works up to 50 hours per week.
Cruise ship nurses also spend a significant amount of time on the seas. With contracts lasting a minimum of 12 weeks, it may not be best for nurses with pets or family commitments.
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Step 3 – Obtain certifications
Due to the potential for emergencies, cruise ship nurses must be ACLS certified.
Other certifications that are not required but may be helpful for a career in cruise ship nursing include:
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
- Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS)
- Sexual assault training or forensic nursing certification
What are additional requirements of cruise ship nurses?
Cruise lines require nurses to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, influenza, and other illnesses without exception since cruise ships present a high risk for transmission.
Onboard the ships, diverse passengers are brought together in crowded, semi-enclosed areas. The risk for foodborne and waterborne transmission is high.
For international cruises, nurses must also have a valid passport.
Most states require cruise nurses to complete continuing education hours to renew their license every two years.
What are the salary and career outlooks for cruise ship nurses?
According to ziprecruiter.com, the national average for cruise nurse salaries is $80,290/year or $39/hr. Top earners in this field can expect to make up to $184,000.
High wage variability indicates significant opportunities to grow and advance in this specialty based on years of experience, education, and skill level.
In addition to great pay, cruise nurses get fantastic perks. Most cruise lines pay for nurses’ accommodations, including flight, hotel, and transportation to the cruise. During the contract, room and board are covered. Also, complimentary meals and snacks may be provided. With the cost of living so low, the pay seems even higher!
Nurses who choose a career in cruise ship nursing can also look forward to career growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for RNs is projected to be 6% between 2021 and 2031.
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When you achieve your goal of becoming a cruise ship nurse, that’s not your final port of call. Cruise ship nurses can advance their careers within the specialty.
Some go on to become the cruise ship Lead/Chief Nurse. The Lead/Chief oversees nursing staff and medical clinic operations.
Others may pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and become a Nurse Practitioner on a cruise ship. Since nurse practitioners can see patients independently, these providers are in high demand. In fact, the BLS projects a growth rate for all NPs of 40% from 2021 to 2031.
Explore the Incredible Health nursing community for advice to learn more about cruise nursing. Whatever path you choose, cruise ship nursing holds many opportunities.
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