Chronological / Cruises / Destinations

The Life of a Cruise Ship Doctor: It’s No Day at the Beach

“Don’t let the two-hour morning and afternoon office hours fool you. It’s a seven-day-a-week, ten-to-twelve-hour-a-day job,” said Princess Cruises ship doctor, Marcus Goosen, Nine days into a two-week Los Angeles to Hawaii cruise aboard Golden Princess last January, Dr. Goosen had already treated passengers for pneumonia, heart attack, broken bones, back aches, severe sunburn, constipation, flu, and seasickness. On a normal sea day he’ll treat 20 to 30 patients.

Princess Cruises ship doctor, Marcus Goosen
Princess Cruises ship doctor, Marcus Goosen


Goosen, a 29-year-old bachelor and native of South Africa, was one of two physicians and four nurses on duty for this cruise. After receiving his medical degree in 2003 from the 106 year old University of the Free State in Bloenfontein, South Africa, and before joining Princess Cruises two years ago, he specialized in emergency medicine, occasionally working with helicopter ambulance crews

Dr. Goosen is a salaried Princess Cruises employee. His contract with the company calls for four months’ service at sea and six weeks off. Like other key officers, he has the same dining and other privileges as the guests.

The Golden Princess has a 2,600 passenger capacity and 1,150 crew members. Its medical center has consulting and treatment rooms, tele-medicine equipment to help obtain advice from land-based medical experts, in-patient beds, a critical care section, x-ray room, emergency room, and a dispensary with more than 200 medications.

The facilities conform to the guidelines of the Cruise Lines International Association. The physicians adhere to the standard requirements of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “It all adds up to a lot of paper work,” Dr. Goosen said, “from maintaining records to helping with insurance claim forms.

“Most people don’t know that Medicare and many medical insurance policies won’t cover treatments outside the United States, and they have to pay the entire bill themselves. I strongly recommend travelers buy travel medical policies. There are companies now that sell combination medical/trip cancellation policies,” he said. The cruise line bills passengers for their medical visits. The first visit is $60 plus the cost of medications, if required. Medical treatments are free for crew members.

He continued, “Many travelers don’t take the precautions they would at home. They overeat, forget their medications, don’t bring along such mundane things as band-aids, ointments, aspirin, or pills to guard against seasickness.”

For seasickness, Dr. Goosen said he would probably prescribe an antihistamine: avomine or phenergan. “But ginger flakes or ginger tablets also work for some people,” he added. The behind-the-ear patch is a no-no as far as he’s concerned. “It can cause problems if not changed as often as recommended, and you can be overmedicated by it. I’ve seen where it has caused confusion and loss of memory, plus vision and urinating difficulties among passengers,” he noted.

Dancers with sprained ankles and kitchen workers with cut fingers are frequent patients. The most common malady of crewmembers, he says, is the common cold. “Usually, an acetaminophen like Tylenol or other mild pain medication can relieve the fever, sore throat or headache,” he said.

Unusual accidents? Once, he had to treat a passenger who fell off a commode and was in severe pain and shock. Another time he treated a passenger who couldn’t close his jaw. “I sedated him and was able to maneuver his mouth shut.”

“I’ve had emergency calls to help disgorge food from a passenger’s esophagus. It’s happened to older guests who didn’t chew the meat enough.

“Among honeymooners, bladder infections have been a frequent ailment,” he said, adding that antibiotics are the standard prescription for that.”

In summing up his work, Dr. Goosen said: “There is no telling when you’ll be hit with an emergency or what to expect when the door to the medical center opens each day. That’s what makes our work so interesting and challenging – and, yes, at times hectic.”

Princess Cruise Lines, www.princess.com.

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