Medicine

How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide
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Kristen Mills profile
Kristen Mills August 29, 2019

A cruise ship is like a small city, and what would a small city be without medical professionals? In trouble! Cruise ship nurses help ensure that passengers and crew remain happy and healthy at sea.

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How to Become a Cruise Ship Nurse

Do you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing? Do you long to travel the high seas on a vessel whose amenities include all-you-can-eat buffets and shuffleboard? If so, you’ve probably found your calling as a cruise ship nurse.


Pros and cons of becoming a cruise ship nurse

How do you lead a nurse to water? A spirit of adventure combined with a drive to put your bachelor’s degree and years of experience to practice may get you there initially. What will keep you coming back, though, could be the perks listed below:

  • Travel: Being a crew member on a cruise ship is hardly a vacation. Even so, you will get to visit new and exotic places and meet new people from all over the world.
  • Low expenses: You receive room and board along with your paycheck, so no scrimping for a high electric bill.
  • Free medical coverage:__ Per maritime law, crew members receive full medical benefits.
  • The relatively short-term commitment: Four-to-six month contracts are the industry standard. That means less job security but also more flexibility.
  • Decent pay: Cruise Ship Jobs reports that cruise ship nurses earn between $4,200 to $4,900 per month, depending on their level of experience and employer.

Being ship bound has some disadvantages, including:

  • Seasickness:__ If you suffer from any varying degree of seasickness, a career on the high seas is probably not for you. Having to constantly battle feeling ill, and taking medication to control it can become wearying.
  • Nontraditional schedule: You’ll live where you work, and you won’t get many days off. You’ll have a lot of responsibilities, especially if you’re a registered nurse or nurse practitioner.
  • Patients on vacation: No one is at his best when he needs to see a medical professional. Cruise ship patients—on vacation and cutting loose—can be particularly challenging. If they feel their problem is the cruise’s fault (e.g., food poisoning), they might well take out their anger and frustration on you. You may not receive the same courtesies these patients would extend their regular healthcare providers back home. One cruise ship nurse describes typical patients as “entitled” “drunks.”

Kinds of cruise ship nurse careers

A cruise ship nurse needs to have a background as diverse as the people aboard. The nursing staff works closely with cruise ship doctors to:

  • Act as first responders
  • Triage emergency calls
  • Assess and treat patients
  • Transfer patients to the primary medical facility onboard

A walk-in clinic is open daily to meet the basic medical needs of guests and crew members alike. Cruise companies keep equipped medical facilities on board, with critical care areas, X-ray units, lab facilities, and a store of essential medications.

A nurse practitioner is an ideal candidate for a cruise ship, having already completed a master’s degree and with the ability to specialize and practice independent of an MD.

A registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree and the minimum experience needed can also fit the bill.

Emergency medicine experience is critical since the primary health concerns onboard will arise on an emergency basis. Both major cruise lines Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International require at least one-year experience in emergency or acute care services. Understandably, entry-level positions in nursing are not available with cruise companies. The high stakes involved with a medical emergency or illness outbreak occurring at sea means that only experienced registered nurses or nurse practitioners need apply.

If you practice a nursing specialty, such as forensic nursing, your extensive experience working closely with people in crisis could be a huge plus.


Educational commitment to become a cruise ship nurse

In the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, plus three years practicing nursing, you can become a cruise ship nurse. At a minimum, you must have your undergraduate degree and an RN license. A master’s degree and training as a nurse practitioner, however, will give you a significant advantage in your job quest.

Becoming a nurse practitioner or other nursing specialist can also boost your average pay.

The majority of cruise lines require a minimum of three years of post-degree fieldwork inpatient care. For nursing positions, popular cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean requires a minimum of one year practical experience in advanced cardiac life support, and a minimum of one year experience in the coronary care, emergency, or intensive care units.


Licensure and accreditation to become a cruise ship nurse

The requirements for becoming a cruise ship nurse are stringent. They include:

ACLS certification covers topics such as the important elements for resuscitation, and major signs and symptoms of strokes. It can be completed as an online survey course for $275. This certification is complementary to your emergency medicine and internal medicine training.

As a licensed RN or nurse practitioner, with the necessary experience and qualifications as a practical nurse you can become a cruise ship nurse.


Resources to become a cruise ship nurse

The earlier in your education and nursing career that you recognize the pull of the tides, the sooner you can begin preparing for your calling!


Typical advancement path for a cruise ship nurse

Cruise ship nursing jobs are typically contracted, running from four-to-six months. Find a job you enjoy and impress your employer and chances are you’ll be able to resign; if they love you and you love them, why wouldn’t that happen? If you re-up, expect a four-to-eight week break between cruises.

To become senior care staff, consider pursuing a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner during those periods off. It could benefit not only your nursing career but also your average annual income.

The down time between contracts is the ideal time to pursue educational opportunities, gain more experience in clinical settings, or work as a temporary travel nurse around the world. Whichever path you pursue to bolster your nursing career, it would be valuable to use the time to hone your nursing informatics skills like synthesizing data intuitively and electronically in order to improve patient outcomes and health staff work performance.


Further accreditation or education for a cruise ship nurse

Pursuing a master’s degree and becoming a nurse practitioner are the surest ways to make yourself more hireable and increase your average annual income. Maintaining your licensure through continuing education courses, including refreshing your ACLS credential, is also vital.

From staying apprised of the latest innovations in emergency medicine to understanding what it means to be a medical assistant, as a cruise ship nurse you will have ample opportunities between contracts to focus on your continuing education.

Recent labor statistics show that specialty nurses fill a void the world over. Both professional and personal fulfillment abound when you choose a career as a cruise ship nurse. Anchors aweigh!


(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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