Training to become a paramedic can open up more doors than you might think. We spoke to Daniel Finnerty, Lecturer in Paramedic Science, about his time working as a paramedic on cruise ships, and how his experiences not only honed his clinical skills, but also sparked an interest in educating others.
How it started
I’d been working within the NHS for around six years, and was ready for a change, when I saw an advert for qualified paramedics to work on cruise ships. I hadn’t heard about this before, so decided to apply, and before I knew it I’d passed the interview process in Southampton, and was off to San Francisco for my training! I spent a week on a ship for my training, and a couple of days doing extra skills such as taking and analysing blood samples (and other laboratory skills), and taking x-rays.
Facilities on board
Seeing all the facilities on board was impressive. As a passenger, you don’t think about what might be hidden below decks to ensure that everyone is cared for, and what facilities are in place to deal with medical emergencies. The larger ships I worked on had built-in ICU wards, recovery wards, x-ray facilities, a minor treatment room, a pharmacy, a laboratory and a morgue (unfortunately). There was also a daily clinic that crew members and passengers could access.
A typical day
I was part of the small but fundamental medical team straight away – along with one other paramedic, two doctors and three nurses. I was on duty every other day, and had to be ready to deal with whatever medical emergencies came up. If I was needed, I’d receive a call, would triage the patient over the phone, and would then go to them wherever they were. I could then call on more colleagues if needed, especially if it was an emergency. My day would also include running two clinic sessions for anyone that needed medical assistance or advice (passengers or crew), and part of this included dispensing medication. As an on-the-road paramedic, this wasn’t something I was used to doing, but I enjoyed it, and was pleased to add another string to my bow.
Managing a team
Another part of the job (that I particularly enjoyed) was being responsible for the Stretcher Retrieval Teams. These were crew members who we’d trained to provide emergency first aid on scene, and then safely and quickly transport patients to us. This could be due to a medical condition, a ship-wide incident or a ‘person overboard’. We could then take over and assess and treat as needed, with the necessary equipment around us. Working with others in this way, and passing on some of my knowledge and skills was the start of my journey into education and training, both of qualified medical staff, and now, student paramedics here at the University.
I worked on six ships over a three year period, and really enjoyed the interaction with crew and passengers, and the friendships and bonds we made. When you’re working closely with a small team, you get to know each other and the patients you are caring for well, especially if they need regular medical assistance during their cruise. As paramedics we don’t get to provide in-patient or more sustained care, as we usually only get to meet people once and don’t get to know what happens to them after we’ve handed them over to hospital staff. However, on the ship, we spent more time with patients, and sometimes found out how they’d fared after leaving the ship (via insurance claims) which was lovely.
Expect the unexpected!
Each day was different, and, depending on the demographic of the passengers and the locations we were sailing to, that could impact what cases we saw. We did have to deal with serious life threatening conditions such as cardiac arrests and strokes, and falls and head injuries were fairly common. Public health was also a big element of job, and issues such as Norovirus did occur, which brought its own challenges. The clinic meant I saw more minor ailments such as coughs and colds, and wound care, so it wasn’t always emergency and drama! My most memorable cases were probably a passenger that suffered a pulmonary embolism, who we looked after within ICU under sedation until we reached land; and a humanitarian mission. During a cruise near Greece, we encountered a boat of immigrants who were in distress. Maritime law means that vessels must help each other, so we diverted to help them. We got them all safely on board, checked them over medically, and gave them food and clothing, before returning them to Turkey.
Perks of the job
As an Officer, l was lucky enough to have my own cabin, and when I wasn’t on duty, I was able to access all the ship’s facilities and entertainment, including bars and restaurants, theatre shows and film showings, gym and sports facilities, spa and shops. I was also able to leave the ship and go on passenger excursions at the ports we stopped at, so I feel so privileged to have seen so many places, and built so many memories.
Find out more
Learn more about how you could become a paramedic at our next Open Day.