How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse

A nursing degree can provide limitless opportunities for the adventurous. However, few of those career options deliver more chances to see the world and explore different cultures than being a cruise ship nurse. These vessels sail every ocean, from the Arctic to the South Pacific, and carry passengers and crew from just about every nation.

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How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse in 8 Steps

Step 1: Complete your BSN

Step 2: Take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam

Step 3: Gain licensure as an RN

Step 4: Look at the nursing requirements for the cruise line you wish to work for, and start working toward completing them

Step 5: Gain several years of experience as an RN, preferably in the ER or ICU

Step 6: Look for and apply for RN jobs on a cruise ship

Step 7: Complete any requirements for the job

Step 8: Enjoy working as a nurse on a cruise ship!

What You’ll Need First: Qualifications and Experience

The cruise industry is global, and companies in many countries and continents own and operate vessels. Unsurprisingly, each company has its own employment rules and hiring criteria. However, a U.S. nursing degree and license probably make you at least as — and often more — attractive to these prospective employers than the equivalents from other nations. This applies as much to many foreign-owned vessels as to those registered in the United States.

Those different hiring criteria mean it’s impossible to define precisely the postgraduate experience you’ll need in order to land (if that’s the right word) a post. However, many companies say they prefer or insist that candidates have two or three years under their belts in ER or ICU environments, and some require advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification.

The American College of Emergency Physicians’ website maintains a Cruise Line Directory that outlines many companies’ hiring criteria for nurses as well as doctors.

What You’ll Need Second: Skills and Attitude

Communication: English tends to be the universal language for cruising, and fluency in that is often enough to get you the job you want. However, some companies, especially those headquartered overseas, like you to have some level of proficiency in one or more foreign languages.

Adaptation: You may think that the way you learned to do things is the only “right” way. However, many hospitals develop their own protocols and procedures, and some adjustment is needed when you move between them. That adjustment may be much greater on a cruise ship. Your clinical colleagues may each have been trained in a different institution, and you have to be flexible enough to engage with them all, so you can work together as a team.

If some members of that team are foreign, the need for flexibility can be noticeably greater. Even those from English-speaking countries, such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand, can be used to different practices and jargon. For example, British doctors almost always use only generic drug names rather than trade ones. They also use abbreviations much less frequently than their American counterparts, and won’t always instantly recognize that an “FBC/CBC” is a “full/complete blood count,” according to a nurse who’s worked in both Britain and the United States.

You may also need to be flexible about your contract. Plenty of companies offer permanent, full-time employment, and these often provide generous vacation periods between voyages. However, you may have to start off taking short-term (as brief as two-week, though usually several-month) contracts to prove you have the aptitude, skills and personality for this highly specialized work.

What to Expect

One thing’s for sure: nursing on a cruise ship is no vacation. Yes, you’ll usually (pretty much always on a longer voyage) get days off, and, when those coincide with your ship being in a port, you’ll have plenty of chances to explore exotic locations.

But you’ll be one of very few clinicians — possibly just you and a solitary doctor — providing care for many people. Some new ships have more than 4,000 passengers (or “guests”), and crews of more than 1,000 are common, though these vessels should have much larger medical teams.

Depending on the ship, the itinerary and the time of year, you may find your passengers are almost exclusively seniors — or overwhelmingly young families with kids and babies. If there’s a (thankfully rare) incident of food poisoning, or an outbreak of an infectious disease, you could find yourself working ludicrously long hours. And there may be many times when you personally are the sole 9-1-1 first-responder to an emergency. You and your team also have to provide full personal-physician services to the permanent crew, and are likely to spend hours filling in insurance paperwork and medical records.

All this, and your salary may be no more — and often could be a little less — than the average for landlubber registered nurses . The same may apply to ships’ nurse practitioners, chief nurses and paramedics. However, your living expenses may be lower than those for people working on dry land. And there should be many days when the view from your bedroom window makes it all worthwhile.
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What Are the Qualifications for a Cruise Ship Nurse?

The number of jobs in the nursing field is expected to grow by at least 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurses can work in a variety of settings, some of which include hospitals, clinics and outpatient facilities, as well as other unusual places. Cruise ship nurses see considerably less patient traffic than land-based nurses and have the opportunity to travel to exotic locations.

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Education

Cruise ship nurses must have the same qualifications as registered nurses who work in other clinical settings. Registered nurses have either an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. An associate degree in nursing takes about two years to complete and a bachelor’s degree in nursing takes about four years to complete. Nursing students typically complete one or two years of general education coursework, depending upon the degree program, and prerequisites before applying to nursing school. Nursing school courses usually include studies in basic aspects of nursing care and practice.

Licensing

Cruise ship nurses also have to be registered as a licensed nurse. All 50 states require nurses to be licensed and all of them use the same national licensing examination, the NCLEX-RN. To take the licensing exam, you must apply for a license with a state nursing board, pay the application fee of $200 (as of 2011), receive authorization to test and then take the test. Results from the exam are typically sent to you after about one month.

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Specialized Training

Cruise ship nurses are essentially emergency nurses. They need to have extensive training in ambulatory nursing which is a sub-field of nursing emphasizing emergency out-patient care. Cruise ship nurses need to have completed first-aid, CPR and automated external defibrillator training. It can also be helpful to obtain certification as an emergency room nurse through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), which involves additional training and testing.

Experience

Cruise ship nurses must typically have some verifiable experience before they can work aboard a ship. The job requires some background in emergency nursing beyond the typical education requirements. Nurses should work for a hospital or emergency medical center for two or more years prior to applying for a job on a cruise ship. This will help prepare them for the realities of hospital work and potential emergency situations.


How to Apply as a Cruise Ship Nurse

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Today’s cruise ship medical centers are fully equipped to handle most everything from minor illnesses to major trauma. Of course, there are also the stereotypical seasickness and sunburn, but all in all, cruise ship nurses and doctors experience a varied and challenging clinical caseload.

The cruise ship medical officers provide and maintain high standards of individualized patient care for passengers and crew, responding to emergencies whenever they occur on the ship. Doctors and Nurses are expected to have a broad range of experience in acute care areas and clinical care skills.

Most cruise lines expect that candidates will have at least 3+ years of either Emergency or Intensive Care experience. Typically, current BLS certification and ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) is preferred. Doctors should also have 3+ years post graduate training in areas that include Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine or Family Practice.

Here is an overview of how to apply to each of the cruise lines as a Nurse or Doctor.

Azamara Club Cruises – Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International recruit for their on board medical departments through their employment website. If you don’t see a job posting for the position you’re interested in, check with your nearest RCCL hiring partner. Interested candidates must be a Registered Nurse or Physician in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa or European Union country.
Contact Name: Karen Adair RN (Manager, Medical Recruitment & Credentialing for RCCL)
Email: kadair@rccl.com

Carnival Cruise Lines – Carnival Cruise Lines’ medical team of ship Physicians and Nurses falls under the deck department (Marine and Technical jobs). Registered Nurses and Physicians must hold valid registration in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland or European Union country. For more details, read Carnival Fun Jobs – Shipboard Medical (www.carnival.com/cms/fun/fun_jobs/shipboard_medical.aspx).
Contact Name: John Bradberry MD, Medical Director
Email: medrecruiting@carnival.com

Celebrity Cruises – Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International recruit for their on board medical departments through their employment website. If you don’t see a job posting for the position you’re interested in, check with your nearest RCCL hiring partner. Interested candidates must be a Registered Nurse or Physician in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa or European Union country.
Contact Name: Karen Adair RN (Manager, Medical Recruitment & Credentialing for RCCL)
Email: kadair@rccl.com

Crystal Cruises – Crystal Cruises uses the concession, Vanter Cruise Health Services to recruit nurses and doctors for their on board medical department.

Cunard Line – Carnival UK is the UK operating company for P&O Cruises and Cunard. Fully qualified Doctors must have current registration with the United Kingdom GMC or appropriate Governmental regulatory body. And, Level 1 registered nurses must have current registration with the United Kingdom Nursing and Midwifery Council or appropriate Governmental regulatory body. For more information, visit Carnival UK Careers. Apply online through Carnival UK Careers website.
Contact: Kate Bunyan (Medical Director at Carnival UK)

From We Are Cunard Blog: “Is There a Doctor On Board?”
Interview with one of Cunard’s Principal Medical Officers, Dr. Peter Hawthorne

Disney Cruise Line – Disney Cruise Line uses the concession, Vanter Cruise Health Services to recruit nurses and doctors for their on board medical department.

Holland America Line – Persons desiring employment with the Medical Staff on board may send a resume to the following address:

Holland America Line
Attn: Fleet Medical Operations
300 Elliott Ave West
Seattle, WA 98119
Contact Names: Brittany Holway or John Moss
Email: Medical_Resume@HollandAmerica.com
Telephone: (+1) 206 298 3071

Norwegian Cruise – Norwegian Cruise Line recruits Doctors and Nurses through their employment pages of their website (www.ncl.com/about/careers/shipboard-employment/positions-available). To apply, email resume to medicaljobs@ncl.com and enter NCL Nurse or DOCTOR in the subject line.
Contact Name: Benjamin Shore (Medical Director at Norwegian Cruise Line)

Oceania Cruises – Oceania Cruises recruits Doctors and Nurses through their employment pages of their website (www.oceaniacruises.com/corporate/employment.aspx).

P&O Cruises – Carnival UK is the UK operating company for P&O Cruises and Cunard. Fully qualified Doctors must have current registration with the United Kingdom GMC or appropriate Governmental regulatory body. And, Level 1 registered nurses must have current registration with the United Kingdom Nursing and Midwifery Council or appropriate Governmental regulatory body. For more information, visit Carnival UK Careers. Apply online through Carnival UK Careers website.
Contact: Kate Bunyan (Medical Director at Carnival UK)

Princess Cruises – Princess Cruises recruits Doctors and Nurses to work on board their cruise ships. Interested candidates should click on the site http://careers.princess.com and enter “paramedic” into keyword search, then complete the on-line profile and questionnaire.
Contact: Grant Tarling MD (Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer)
E-mail: careersatsea@princesscruises.com

Royal Caribbean International – Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International recruit for their on board medical departments through their employment website. If you don’t see a job posting for the position you’re interested in, check with your nearest RCCL hiring partner. Interested candidates must be a Registered Nurse or Physician in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zeeland, Ireland, South Africa or European Union country.
Contact Name: Karen Adair RN (Manager, Medical Recruitment & Credentialing for RCCL)
Email: kadair@rccl.com
Info:
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How to Work As a Nurse on a Cruise Ship

Cruise-ship nurses enjoy the benefit of combining their employment with pleasure, serving the cruise ship passengers and employees while sailing the world. There are several options for the nurse, or would-be nurse, who wants to pursue this career track

Things You’ll Need

V

A nursing degree Emergency room experience Intensive-care unit experience Good cross-cultural, interpersonal and social skills

Instructions

Preparatory Qualifications
1

Attend an accredited nursing school and obtain the registered nursing degree. If you are not proficient at computers, it would be wise to learn this skill. It would also be helpful to take social science courses to develop your cross-cultural understanding and skills. It would also be wise to develop your people skills.

2

After graduation, gain at least four years experience working in emergency rooms, intensive-care units and/or critical-care units. (Some cruise lines will require as few as three, while some cruise lines will require at least 10 years experience.)

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3

Gain valid registered nursing registration in the country regions where you may be serving. This could include the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and the European Union. Each country has its own requirements, but most involve applying for the registration, proving your nursing credentials and paying an application fee.

4

Research the possible cruise-line companies and find out their requirements. Such cruise lines include Carnival, Commodore Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. All of these cruise lines have Web sites that list their employment contact information and employment requirements. Read the company’s Web site and research the company as you would any potential employer.

5

Choose which cruise lines you would like to work for. Compile the necessary documentation, update your resume and cover letter and apply to the cruise line as a cruise-ship nurse.