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Why I chose… To be a crew doctor

Name: Dr Alan Ward

Title: Principal Medical Officer

Location: Southampton/at sea


I have now been working, initially as ‘crew doctor’ and more recently as ‘senior doctor’, for over two years within Carnival UK.

During that time I have practised on seven P&O and Cunard vessels. In the past I worked as a GP principal in Devon for 16 years, and then as a senior partner in Hampshire for three years. I subsequently spent two years as a clinical fellow in two emergency departments in the county, whilst undertaking secondments in various departments (from the operating threatres to intensive therapy) pro bono, to prepare for this diverse role at sea.

This change in career was in part because I sought new professional challenges but also consequent of some disillusionment about certain changes within the NHS. My wife was happy to retire early to join me at sea and escape our children.


Working at sea is demanding, those simply seeking an easy or exotic lifestyle should look elsewhere. However the quality of medical care and associated facilities and the professional support and CPD offered by this company are second to none. There is a genuine commitment to providing a top class private medical service to guests and crew alike, with the time and resource to be able to add real value.

The crew come from over 50 nations, caring for whom is a real pleasure. Our guests too come from many corners of the globe so this consultation mix is varied and engaging.

Tours of duty last some four months. The intervening two months leave permits well-deserved respite, plus opportunities to work as a locum either in primary or secondary care to refresh and extend one’s professional skill set.


My primary care background contrasts with that of many of my colleagues who have mainly worked in hospitals before.

However, having attained the necessary acute experience and qualifications (ALS, ATLS, APLS, MIMMS) I feel my particular background is advantageous to the onboard medical teams. Whether dealing with common issues like respiratory infections, gastrointestinal upset or occupational dermatitis, or less common fare such as malaria, pancreatitis or dengue fever, the work is absolutely fascinating.

Much of the twice-daily clinic-based work is firmly rooted in primary care. Other more occasional demands include leading the resuscitation team, managing significant trauma, performing rapid sequence induction or safely ventilating a patient at sea are much more the stuff of secondary care. High quality treatment is even more important when events occur mid-Atlantic, perhaps three days away from extraneous support.

Other challenges include never really being ‘off-duty’ once aboard, representing the Company at varied social functions, as well as managing a small team of doctors and nurses which changes frequently.

Delivering first class care and seeing something of the world has its obvious attractions. Working alongside highly trained colleagues, collectively dealing with significant challenges ensuring the best possible outcomes is immensely satisfying. To be frank, it now makes UK-based general practice look just a touch tame to me.

Dr Alan Ward is a senior ship’s doctor for Carnival UK