Qualified Cruise Ship Doctors

by R Long
February 19, 2023

When planning a cruise trip we tend to not plan on having any medical issues, but sometimes life has other plans in store. Luckily, cruise ships are equipped with medical offices and an infirmary with medical staff available around the clock.

These cruise ship doctors and medical facilities are usually only equipped to treat minor illnesses and injuries. If the condition is serious and critical and you find yourself in need of urgent medical care, you’ll be referred to professionals on land and disembarked immediately to receive treatment.  

This article will cover what cruise ship doctors do, medical facilities on board, and procedures and regulations regarding medical needs onboard. 

Do cruise ships have doctors, nurses, or medical centers on board?

The short answer is yes. Ships from major cruise lines are required at the bare minimum to have one doctor and two assisting nurses onboard at all times. Larger cruise ships require two cruise ship doctors and up to four nurses on standby.

Ships are legally required to have medical staff available 24 hours a day with no exceptions. If you are worried about the safety of a cruise, you can feel better knowing that every cruise ship has medical personnel and facilities on the ship.

Medical Personnel 

cruise ship doctors md

Medical staff (physicians and nurses) are required to have at least 3 years of postgraduate experience in general and emergency medicine before being hired. Alternatively, they must be board certified in emergency medicine, internal medicine, and/or family medicine. They are required to graduate from a recognized school of medicine.

Medical staff (physicians and nurses) are required to have at least 3 years of postgraduate experience in general and emergency medicine before being hired. Alternatively, they must be board certified in emergency medicine, internal medicine, and/or family medicine. They are required to graduate from a recognized school of medicine.

The infirmary staff must be capable of performing technically difficult life support practices, emergency care, as well as minor surgical procedures.

They are expected to be capable of stabilizing patients that are critically ill, performing diagnostics and interventions that are therapeutic, and helping to evacuate very ill and injured patients to receive more advanced medical services. The staff is also required to be fluent in the language most dominant onboard the vessel. 

Medical Facilities

If you fall ill or injure yourself you’ll be directed to the onboard medical facilities. The infirmary tends to be on the lower deck. It will be open for a specified time, as shown on your daily programs, but a cruise ship doctor is on call 24 hours a day in case of medical emergencies that require immediate attention.

Inside the medical center, you will be requested to fill out medical history forms, just as you would at a physician’s office in the United States.

If your medical situation requires the use of more advanced facilities, you may be admitted to the area of the infirmary containing hospital beds. There is a small surgical suite where wound suturing and other minor surgeries are conducted.

The main medical center is set up to treat minor illnesses and injuries. The beds are also used to stabilize patients who are in critical condition. The most common illnesses and injuries the staff treats include respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses as well as motion sickness. 

The infirmary must contain equipment capable of handling a range of diagnostics and treatments for a variety of passengers and staff.

This equipment includes wheelchairs, a stretcher, a backboard for spine mobilization, oxygen, lab equipment specifically for diagnostics, EKG capabilities, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, oxygen tanks, x-ray machines, and vital equipment to gauge vitals.

cruise ship doctors taking blood pressure

Onboard there will also be a pharmacy, which means you’ll be able to buy whatever basic medications you might require, as well as some more advanced medications. The size of the pharmacy’s inventory is dependent on the size of the ship and amount of medical personnel as well as the perceived needs of the ship.

The medication you can acquire includes seasickness pills, aspirin, antibiotics as well as any other over-the-counter medications. The pharmacy stocks generally medications for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and respiratory medications issues, infectious diseases, eyes, ears, and throat infections as well as vaccines. 

Are Cruise Ship Doctors Real Doctors?

All major cruise lines and fleets have onboard medical facilities (not to be mistaken for a hospital) that are staffed by experienced, reputable, and professional medical personnel.

This means that cruise ship doctors and nurses have the same exact credentials as any other “real doctors” would on land. They have tons of medical experience from minor illnesses to emergency critical medical situations. 

Are Medical Services Available On A Cruise Ship?

Yes, medical services to treat minor injuries and illnesses are available onboard. For emergencies, the staff is available 24 hours a day, and if necessary the staff will disembark you to the nearest facility on land for severe cases that cannot be treated onboard. 

Do You Have To Pay For Medical Care On A Cruise Ship?

Cruise ship doctors work independently of their employers, meaning they will charge a basic hourly charge and consultation fee. Additional charges will be added for any tests and medications that are required. All must be paid at the time of service or will be added to your shipboard spending account. 

Will Your Personal Medical Insurance Cover The Medical Expenses? 

cruise ship doctors ins

No, most insurance companies, including Medicare do not cover medical costs on a cruise ship. That is one of the reasons it is important to get travel insurance whenever you travel out of the United States.

Assuming you do have travel insurance, you will probably have to pay for your medical services and then request reimbursement from your travel insurance policy, if you have one, by filing a claim to recoup what’s covered by your health package.

For senior travelers, it is important to have travel insurance. It typically costs about 5-8% of your total trip cost, which would cover the balance of your medical costs. Without insurance. you would be expected to pay for all the costs out of pocket with no hope for reimbursement.

A great travel insurance company is Allianz Travel Insurance, which is reputable and cost-effective. Not only can your policy cover medical costs, but also if you have a medical emergency, the cost to move you to a qualified medical facility.


Medical personnel, facilities, and cruise ship doctors are available on-board cruise ships at an additional cost. It is important to get travel insurance before going on your cruise adventure just in case of emergencies.

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