Cruise ship doctors: roll the dice with your life
Independent Travel Tips for the professional at Leisure
I recently found myself
injured on a cruise ship, in pain, and forced to delay treatment while I attempted
to vet the quality of a graduate of a Macedonian medical school! In my
case, the cruise ship doctors refused to speak by telephone with
my own physician or to help me locate a real doctor from the
passenger list. I was forced to make a knee-jerk
decision in a potentially life-threatening situation.
||People also don't know that cruise ship medical clinics are
effectively judgment proof, protected by a maze of deceptive
gerrymandering and foreign jurisdictions. For example, even though
a ship doctor wears an officers uniform of the cruise line, they are
independent contractors, a deception that protects the cruse lines from
taking responsibility for their shoddy ships doctors.
It's a scary feeling, being stuck with needles by dumb looking
people who barely speak English, and I wrote this so that other
cruise passengers will understand that your treatment may be
worse than the problem.
Most cruise passengers don’t realize that the cruise lines
provide medical care as a courtesy only, and they are not
required to staff their facilities with qualified American
doctors or nurses. You must carefully vet their medical training
and certifications before consenting to medical treatment, your
life might depend on it.
Historically, under maritime and admiralty law, the captain appoints
a ship doctor. They often chose the cook, since they were good
While the cruise lines say that there medical treatment rooms
meet the guidelines of the American College of Emergency
Technicians (ACET), yet they say nothing about the quality of the quacks
and charlatans who are passed-off to unsuspecting cruisers as
qualified physicians. Here is my arm after my treatment by
an African and Macedonian doctor. Now I ask you, does this look like
competent medical care?
A photograph of my IV injection site, 48 hours
Is there a doctor in the house?
I have many clients through the Caribbean and over the years
I’ve learned to always ask for a M.D. when I am in need of any
medical assistance. I have experienced horrendous care by
“doctors” overseas, including one physician who told my wife
that her joint inflammation was due to her unforgiven sins, and
prescribed that she bath in the blood of Jesus Christ!
When you need medical care aboard sip, vetting a doctor can be a
life-or-death issue. I've been on ships with board certified U.S.
surgeons, but I've also cruised with witchdoctors who I would not allow to treat
my dog, much less myself.
I’m a frequent cruiser, and I know that ships doctors vary
widely, in training, licensing and experience. In the absence of
a global medical certification, a “doctor” might range anywhere
from an ABA board certified surgeon to an Amazonian shaman. Who
As I found out, being injured is not the best time to weigh the
risks of being treated by a third world physician.
You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto
I recently had a serious injury on a cruise ship, and I knew
that I was going to be in trouble when the cruise ships "doctor"
reminded me of the dumb-looking guy who works at my local hippie
herbal cure store.
||When I asked this this man if me was an M. D., he replied “I’m a
doctor”, an answer that I found to be deliberately evasive and suspicious.
Next, I was treated to a round of evasive word-games with the ships medical staff.
Me: “Are you an M.D.?”
Quack: “I’m a doctor”.
Me: “So was my history professor”.
"I'll ask again: Are you an M.D.? It's a
simple question, you are either an M.D. or you aren't.”
Quack: Shrugs and goes over to my wife. . . .
This "doctor" then approached my wife and asked: “Can you please tell him that
I’m an M.D.?” My wife replied “Well, you don't look like an MD to
me. If you really are an MD,
tell him yourself. I'm not going to lie for you.”
I also asked if it was possible to scan the passenger list and see if there were
any qualified doctors on board the cruise ship. Of course, my repeated requests were
Once I was transported to the medical room, a woman approached me and I again
Me: “Are you and M.D.?
Quack MD: ”Yes” she replied.
Me: “Great! Where did you go to medical school?”
Quack MD: “Macedonia”, she said.
||Macedonia? Visions of Borat flashed through my mind. I did not
even know that Macedonia was a country, but I’m well aware that many
medical schools in developing nations are a joke.
My other option was an African-trained physician, but he spoke
English very poorly.
You must also be very careful when answering medical questions, as many of the
cruise ships doctors English skills are as poor as their medical training.
Do you speak English?
In the cruise ship medical facility, my wife is trying to reach a "real doctor"
while I was bombarded with a bunch of half-English babble.
Quack doctor: “Do you take Blutiners?"
Me: “What is Blutiner”? I've never heard of the word.
At that point, the “doctor” got exasperated and said:
Quack doctor: “You speak English”, he replied in an
underserved arrogant tone. "You need to be cooper rahtive".
Me: "Cooper-ah-tive? What the F**k does cooper rahtive
mean"? (The idiot was trying to say "cooperative")
I later figured out that "Blutiners" were “Blood thinners”, and the
quack took offense at my inability to understand his “excellent”
Oh, and I was charged over $850 for this shoddy "treatment", which was
right out of a Money Python skit.
My wife was able to reach my primary care physician by cell phone, but
unfortunately the cruise ships crummy cell service was cut off before he could
speak to the cruise ship "doctors" to offer treatment advice. Our doctor
was sarcastic, at first, thinking that I was playing a bad joke:
"Let me get this straight.
You want to know if you should entrust yourself to a doctor who went to
medical school in Africa?
Are you joking?"
So here I was, in the uncomfortable position of being in shock and having to
delay my treatment while I evaluated the training of doctors who told me that
they attended medical school in Africa and Macedonia.
This article by Consumer Affairs
Cruise Ship medical care spotty, notes that cruise lines are
exempt from most U.S. labor standards and medical safeguards,
with woefully unqualified quacks posing as MD's:
"The study found that 27 percent of shipboard doctors and nurses lacked
advanced training in treating heart attacks, the leading cause of death on
More than half the doctors and 72 percent of the nurses lacked
advanced training in dealing with trauma."
But is this our own fault? Cruise ships have become a very
popular largely because of the low cost that accrues from being
outside the U.S. labor laws, and sub-standard medical care is
one of the areas where the cruise ships keep our costs low.
According to attorney
Jason Turchin, many deaths at the hands of an unqualified
cruise ship physician are wholly preventable:
"Injury and death aboard a cruise ship is often preventable and foreseeable.
Cruise guests expect to enjoy a safe vacation while aboard a cruise, yet
many guests are injured or killed as a result of cruise ship negligence."
For a cost less than the cost of one night at an upscale
Manhattan Hotel, you can cruise for a whole week, a remarkable
bargain, largely possible because of cheap foreign labor. However, people
don't realize that that once you leave US waters, you
are at the mercy of the cruise ships Captain, and you loose
all American consumer protection, including the right to
treatment by a qualified medical doctor who has been
certified by the American Medical Association.
Cruising is now an alternative to nursing homes, and it's cheaper to put Granny on an
all-year cruise, and
cruising costs far less than assisted living.
According to this article by
Columbia University, the rise in
geriatric cruise passengers has led to many deaths at sea.
The independent contractor doctor scam
If you ran a cruise line, how would you make a profit from
selling medical care to
your passengers without taking any responsibility for
their safety or well-bring? Simple, just make the ships
doctors independent contractors!
The scam works like this. The cruise ship medical
personnel appear to be employees and proudly wearing senior
officers uniforms, but they will disclaim all affiliation with
the cruise line when a patient is killed due to their
sub-standard medical training.
Because the ships doctors can be inept and dangerous, most
cruise lines are very careful not to be affiliated with the
medical staff. That way, if they kill you, the cruise ship
line just says to take it up with the doctor, but that won't
happen since the quack doctors will have been returned to the tent
village where the cruise line found them in the first place.
If you are killed or injured by a quack cruise ship doctor,
don't even bother seeing a malpractice attorney, since
anything goes on the high seas:
"Many of the physicians on the ships are foreign born and filing a
lawsuit in their home country can be complex and expensive.
Further, when a malpractice case crops up the doctors usually disappear
and the cruise companies don’t offer much help in locating them"
Piracy on the high seas
Cruise ships have been widely criticized for a variety of
unsavory practices, everything from the
auctions that prey on the elderly to pre-planned
"failures" that interrupt customers ports. But while
these civil torts are not life-threatening,
you must realize that your cruise ship "doctor" may be so
unqualified that they would be arrested if they attempted to
practice medicine in America.
Let's take a closer look so that you understand that your cruise
may place you far away from life-saving medical treatment. I
have many clients overseas, and during my travels I've learned
the importance of carefully vetting cruise ships doctors, who
can range from well-trained experts to complete fools.
Be prepared to make tough decisions
The cruise ship medical office was growing impatient and had no
interest in talking to my "American" doctor. They would
not try to find an MD aboard the ship, and they would not talk
to my own board certified MD over the phone. I was then
told that the ships captain was contacted and that I had only
1. Suck up the pain and stop screaming
2. Accept their treatment
3. Be "put off the ship"
At this point I had visions of being sent adrift on a lifeboat,
or worse, inconveniencing thousands of passengers with an
unplanned delay. I was under duress and accepted
treatment, and I now wish that I hadn't. These goofs could
not even start an IV line properly:
A photograph my IV injection site, 48 hours
What can you do to improve medical care at sea?
There are growing pressures to enact legislation requiring
cruise ships who cater to American tourists to be subject to the
same protections that we enjoy in America. Please join me in
supporting legislation that would require all cruise lines who
dock in America (and carry a majority of American passengers) to
fall under the safeguards and protections that all Americans
On the other hand, you get what you pay for. It's the
demand of the cruising public for cheap rates that drives this
cost-cutting, and I'm told that the quality of cruise ship
medical care is directly proportional to the cruise costs.
The more expensive cruise lines like Cunard and Crystal offer
amenities at all levels of service, and the moderate cruise
lines such as Celebrity and Holland America have been known to
staff their medical facilities with genuine M.D. doctors,
licensed by the American Medical Association. Cruise
prices are at an all-time low, and there are now specialty
cruises that cater to the working class, a market niche that I