NAME: Adriana Yates, M.D.
TITLE: Senior physician
EMPLOYER: Carnival Cruise Lines

Adriana Yates, M.D.
Adriana Yates, M.D.

What do you like best about being a cruise ship physician?

A lot of things. The ship is amazing! As a doctor, you are a senior officer, so you have the best quality of life on board. You have one of the best cabins with a steward to clean your cabin and wash your clothes every day.

You have food available 24 hours a day. You are provided with uniforms and have the opportunity to meet people from more than 60 different countries. You can go to different lunches and dinners that are available for guests and crew. You can go to the lounges, shows, work out at the gym or get off at the ports of call. You also have 24-hour Internet access.

What don’t you like about being a cruise ship physician?

The only thing I don’t like is being away from my husband, family and friends for a couple of months. The good thing is that my husband can come with me, but not for long periods of time.

Do you have any advice for physicians who would like to pursue this?

I would tell them to go for it. It’s a wonderful job, and the pay is very competitive. You have a social life on board. You have presentations, meetings and dinners to attend. You have to interact with the guests. It’s very exciting.

Was there anything that surprised you about your job?

The ship totally amazed me with all its technology. It’s this big floating hotel. Every time I hear about a hurricane or something out there, I’m so amazed that with their technology, they know where to go and what to do to keep us safe.

Are you always assigned to the same ship?

No. You can choose which ship you’d like to be assigned to. We have a doctor who makes our schedules. If a position is available, you will often get the position.

How long are the contracts?

Usually, the contracts are for four months. If you want to stay for a longer period of time, you can request it. Usually, you have two months off between contracts, but that’s also variable.

What’s the income potential?

Total compensation is competitive with that of shore side primary care physicians. Ship physicians essentially have no expenses. Airfare, room and board, uniforms, health care and liability coverage, for example, are typically included. That means that we as ship physicians generally keep what we make.

Are you the only physician on the ship?

It depends on the size of the ship. The smaller ships have one physician and three nurses. On that size of a ship, you have to work every day, six hours a day. The rest of the time, you are on call for any type of emergency. On the larger ships, the medical team consists of two doctors and four nurses. You will work every other day.

Do you prefer the larger ship?

Yes, because you have more time. Also, you have another colleague in case you need a second opinion. You also have more nurses, so everything is better.

What is a typical day like?

In the morning on the days I’m not working, I like to sleep in. I then check my e-mails—both personal and work related. Then I go to the gym for an hour or two. When I come back, it’s time for lunch, which I’ll have with my team.

Whoever is on duty, I’ll call and ask when they are ready to go. After that, I can go to the beach or just walk if I’m at a port. Later, I’ll talk to my husband on the Internet. Then the team will get together and attend dinner. Later in the evening, I’ll watch a movie. That’s what a day off is like.

If we are in the middle of the ocean, it’s somewhat the same. Sometimes, when you are not working, you have to go to Captain’s Meetings, which are usually an hour or longer—that’s part of your job. The days you are on duty, the clinic hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. If there is an emergency where a passenger needs to see you other than clinic hours, then the nurses will call you so you can arrange to see the patient.

Interested in this opportunity?
Here are some tips to help determine if a cruise ship practice is the right fit.

  1. Be prepared to be separated from family and friends for long periods of time.
  2. If you enjoy meeting people, traveling and being social, this position might be a great opportunity.
  3. Do your research. Find out more about the job and the cruise lines.
  4. Though cruise line contracts can be as long as four to six months (depending on the cruise line), if you have the flexibility or are retired, you may want to inquire about part-time positions. The possibility exists that you might be able to sign on for a single cruise.
  5. Be aware that though the job sounds like a paid vacation, be prepared to be busy and keep in mind you are responsible for the medical care of the crew and guests on board. This means that any medical emergency that can happen on land can also happen on a cruise ship.