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  • Susan Koning

What's it like working on a cruise ship?



When patients hear that I worked on a cruise ship they are very curious! So I

thought I would write down some thoughts on working on a cruise ship and what I

experienced and learned. It is one of the best things I did and certainly the most

challenging. While it had many perks including the travelling, it is definitely not a

vacation. I worked on 8 different cruise ships during my years at sea and the

contracts were 7-8 months long, no breaks in-between. And there are no weekends!

I started working on cruise ships right out of acupuncture college, so I was fresh and

jumped right into it. The first 3-4 months are such a blur because they were so busy

with so many new things happening; I even forgot to let my family know how I was

doing for three months until I received a strongly worded email, oops….


Each contract was a little different but I was always the sole acupuncturist in a spa

of an average of 20 other therapists including massage, fitness instructors, and a full

salon staff. Everyone is surprised that acupuncture is practiced on the ship but it was

super busy. Seminars were commonly held, often daily, sometimes more than one in a

day that would introduce acupuncture to people and explain how it could help them.

A lot of my patients were first-timers but as the years went by more and more people

knew about acupuncture and came looking for it. When I first started though it was

quite unfamiliar for a lot of people.


My days when the ship was at sea was extremely busy going from one treatment

room to the next, all while trying not to be seasick. Yes seafarers get seasick too!

The number of patients varied per day but it could be as much as 14 people. I

remember sometimes coming in at 8 am and leaving at 10pm. Then let’s not forget

when we crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific. When the ship crossed over from

Europe to the Caribbean we would lose an hour of sleep every night and work 6-8

seadays in a row. That was challenging! It was much better on the way to Europe

when we gained an extra hour of sleep each night; much happier crew!

Working on a cruise ship is challenging and not for everyone but I found it was an

amazing way to learn; I had no other choice but to figure it all out; there was no one

else around me who knew anything about acupuncture and if you’ve ever been on a

cruise ship you’ll know the wifi is very very slow and very very expensive (and this

was ten years ago that I started so it was even worse!) so I needed to draw on what

I had learned in school and a few books that I had packed with me. I quickly

learned what treatments worked and didn’t work for patients and I was able to get

fast results. The great thing about working on a ship is that patients are able to come

in for treatments multiple times per week. This is the best way to see results. We

are very used to a 1 treatment per week on average, but when you do multiple

treatments close in time the results add up so much faster. Acupuncture is a

cumulative treatment, the results accumulate and the effects of acupuncture

continue to accumulate in your body to help your body continue the healing.


I’ve seen amazing results, sometimes with conditions that seemed hopeless. I wish I

could share testimonials but the Ontario acupuncture regulatory board doesn’t

permit me to do that. But I saw incredible changes! It was very rewarding to see

people enjoy their cruise when they thought they would be miserable the whole

time because of the pain condition that they came on board with.

The one thing I really missed though is having follow up with the patient. I usually

only saw them for a week or two, however long the cruise was, then I didn’t know

how they were doing, whether they continued with the acupuncture, or what

happened. That I really missed. One of the most rewarding things was when

patients came back years later on other cruises and came to the spa looking for me,

to tell me how they were doing and still experiencing the benefit of acupuncture

years later.

So my years practicing acupuncture on ships were very rewarding and I saw more

patients in one contract than an average practitioner would see in 5 years. Cruise

ships made me a confident acupuncturist; confident in my skills and confident in the

effectiveness of acupuncture.


So of course there are many more stories but some secrets go down with the ship....

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