Vol 69, No 3 (2018)
Original article
Published online: 2018-09-27

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Practicing medicine on the high seas: a review of South African doctors’ careers in cruise ship medicine

Carolyn Mary Lewis1, David Lee Skinner2, Roshen Maharaj3
Pubmed: 34428878
IMH 2018;69(3):171-175.


Background: There has been an increase in the number of South African doctors working in the field of maritime medicine on board cruise ships. Despite this, there is a paucity of literature available addressing the epidemiology, level of expertise and continued medical education (CME) activities of cruise ship medicine. We aim to describe the demographics, qualifications and level of experience of South African doctors embarking on a career as a cruise ship doctor and assess ongoing CME and the future careers of doctors post cruise ship medicine.

Materials and methods: A survey was distributed to doctors either currently employed or previously employed as a cruise ship doctor from July 2012 to June 2017. The data obtained was used to describe the characteristics of South African doctors working in the field of cruise ship medicine.

Results: Of the 65 respondents, 61.5% were female. The majority of doctors were aged between 25 and 40 years. All South African doctors held a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree, or equivalent, as a primary medical qualification and 46% held a Diploma in Primary Emergency Care prior to working at sea. The majority of doctors obtained certification in Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Paediatric Advanced Life Support and Advanced Trauma Life Support prior to joining cruise ship medicine. A wide range of courses and diplomas were undertaken by these doctors whilst working at sea. The majority of doctors opted for short to medium term contracts before returning to South Africa to pursue a land-based career, often by enrolling in postgraduate specialist training programmes.

Conclusions: Maritime medicine is an emerging field of emergency medicine in South Africa and requires a high standard of competence. A robust CME programme exists whilst working at sea. Most South African doctors return to South Africa to pursue a land based career, alleviating the potential concern that South Africa is permanently losing doctors to cruise ship medicine.

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