When people ask about getting sick on a cruise ship, they’re often worried about norovirus. But what happens if you catch a nasty cold, sprain your ankle, or (even worse) have a serious medical emergency like a heart attack? Rest assured, because cruise ships are well prepared.
Are there doctors on cruise ships?
Of course! Cruise ships will always have at least one doctor along with a staff of nurses. Larger ships will have more personnel with larger infirmaries.
What kind of medications do they have?
If you’re looking for aspirin, seasickness pills or other basic over-the-counter meds, you probably can skip the a trip the infirmary and just buy them at the ship’s store. If you need prescription meds, medical facilities on cruise ships will have drugs on hand to treat infectious diseases like the flu and norovirus, along with eye, ear, nose and throat issues, plus a variety of gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments.
It's not a full pharmacy, but it will have most of the meds you'll need. - Photo by Royal Caribbean
What kind of equipment do they have?
Don’t expect to find a full ER on board, but most shipboard infirmities come equipped with x-ray machines, stretchers, wheelchairs, EKGs, defibrillators, and cardiac monitors. The larger the ship, the more equipment they’ll have available.
Can they treat serious medical emergencies?
Infirmaries on cruise ships are capable of stabilizing patients in critical condition and dealing with sudden emergencies like heart attacks. In an interview with Yahoo.com, former cruise ship doctor Dr. John Bradberry makes the case that it’s actually better to have a heart attack on a cruise ship than on land because medical personnel will only be a few minutes walk away instead of a 10-15 minute drive.
However, their facilities are not as extensive as a hospital on land, so if there is a serious issue that requires emergency treatment, they may disembark the passenger at the next port so they can be taken to a facility with a proper ER. If the emergency is serious enough, sometimes passengers will be evacuated by helicopter or the ship will divert to a nearby port to get the passenger ashore as quickly as possible.
Ship infirmaries have access to the same equipment as your general physician. - Photo by Royal Caribbean
How qualified are the doctors?
Very qualified. Here are the MINIMUM requirements for a cruise ship doctor on Carnival according to cruiseshipjob.com:
1. Graduate of an accredited school of medicine, with current licensure in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or other approved country.
2. Three years of formal post-graduate/post-registration clinical training, or board certification/or equivalent in Emergency Medicine, Family Practice or Internal Medicine.
3. Competence in emergency medicine with experience in orthopedic and minor surgical procedures.
4. Current certification as an ACLS Provider (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) or its equivalent, unless Board Certified in Emergency Medicine. ATLS (Trauma) Certificate and PALS (Pediatric) Certificate helpful, but not mandatory.
Did you know? The crew gets treated in the same infirmary as the passengers!
Onboard doctors are just as qualified as doctors on land. - Photo by Royal Caribbean
Will my health insurance cover any expenses?
Any charges incurred will be charged to your ship’s cabin, and you will have to recoup the money from your health insurance provider. Any expenses incurred will likely be considered out of network for your health insurance and may not be covered, which is why purchasing travel health insurance can be a good idea for people with preexisting conditions.
What are the hours for those doctors offices?
The infirmaries on cruise ships keep regular hours, but will always have medical personnel on call 24 hours a day to deal with emergencies.
Typical cruise ship infirmary hours - Photo by Royal Caribbean
Will they quarantine me if I get sick?
Quarantining a passenger is up to the discretion of the cruise line. When they do quarantine passengers, they take it seriously: If norovirus or the flu is suspected, you will be told to remain in your cabin, and your keycard will be deactivated to discourage you from leaving. Disobeying these rules could result in your being disembarked from the ship at the next port or banned from sailing with the line in the future.
Will I get disembarked from the ship?
The only reason cruise lines would medically disembark a passenger is if they deem the passenger to be unfit to continue sailing. If you have a contagious illness you will be quarantined, but if your condition is a serious risk to yourself or other passengers, you will be disembarked and taken to a hospital in port.