Is there a doctor on board our ships?

  • Is there a doctor on board our ships? In this article we ask principal medical officer Doctor Peter Hawthorne about what it is like heading up the vital department on board our ships. Three Queens
  • Could you please give us an idea of your career so far?

    Variety is the keyword. I have been qualified well over 30 years and have been at sea with Cunard for eight. Prior to that after qualifying at Queens University in Belfast I worked in the Royal Air Force, and in the Middle East, Nigeria, Spain and Germany. I did my postgraduate training in General Practice and have also worked in a variety of specialties including emergency medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, and tropical medicine. Although not the standard medical career path, this kind of varied medical background is probably ideal for marine medicine where we have to deal with just about anything and often in a remote situation without easy access to specialised back-up. I also believe change prevents stagnation in one’s career and provides an impetus for one to maintain and improve one’s professional knowledge and skills as the years go by.
  • Please could you describe your role on board?

    My role on board as a senior doctor is an all encompassing one. I have overall responsibility for the running of the medical centre and am the leader of our on-board team of doctors and nurses. Our work not only involves direct out-patient and in-patient care but the maintenance of medical stores and equipment and the provision of an occupational health service for the crew and the provision of public and community health services for all souls on board. Examples would be the flu vaccination programme we run for the crew, our own in-house medical education program, crew educational programmes, the doctor’s involvement in the public health inspections of the ship etc.
  • As team leader it falls to me to deal with personnel, disciplinary and other issues relating to the medical department and to co-ordinate our departmental continuing education programme. I am also a member of the ships executive (management) committee and will be called upon to advise the Captain and other Senior Executive officers on all things medical. With Cunard there are also social obligations as it is traditional for our officers to host guests at cocktail parties and in the dining room and the Senior Doctor has his role to play in this respect though not to the detriment of patient care of course.
  • Tell us a bit about the medical facilities on board?

    On Queen Victoria we have a well-equipped medical centre with two doctors' consulting rooms, two treatment rooms and five single-bedded wards for in-patients. All wards have piped oxygen, three have full bedside and remote monitoring facilities and we can ventilate a patient if necessary. We have basic but comprehensive lab, ECG and digital x-ray facilities, with the possibility of getting a radiologist read on our x-ray films within 24 hours from a remote site.
  • Since I first came to sea the equipment has certainly become more sophisticated. Now our x-rays are digital, retained on computer for easy reviewing and transmissible for remote site reading. We can give a patient a copy of their x-ray on CD for their doctor at home. Also our lab equipment is more comprehensive. We used to have to test for each parameter such as sodium one test at a time. Now we have a machine that gives us complete profiles such as a liver panel within 10 – 15 minutes and is much less labour intensive. All our ships have completely up to date and broadly similar equipment now so that if one is sent to work on a different ship it is not difficult to get up to speed with the equipment in a short space of time. Our most valuable resource is of course the team itself, this medical department on board Queen Victoria.
  • New staff are carefully screened – for example nursing candidates must have a CV which includes experience in one of the acute medical specialties such as intensive care, accident and emergency or acute cardiology. If short listed they will be interviewed and tested not just on their knowledge but on their psychological suitability for life at sea. Doctors are all expected to have experience in accident and emergency and primary care.
  • Please could you tell us something interesting about your job?

    On our ship with kennels for example, Queen Mary 2, the doctor also functions as the vet and I am available as required to look after their medical needs too! Fortunately these precious international travelling pets are usually in very good shape and my most severe canine case so far has been constipation which responded to increased fluids in the little one’s diet.
  • Where is your favourite place on board?

    I’m not sure have a clear favourite as it depends on what I am doing. I spend quite a lot of time in the gym which is at the front of the ship and has a commanding view of wherever we are. I can look out the window at the scenery, listen to music and work out at the same time – the ultimate in multi-tasking - I really do enjoy going to the gym, in as much as all that pain is enjoyable.
  • What does Cunard mean to you?

    I have worked for Cunard for eight years, apart from a few short stints with some of our corporate partners, and I believe very much in the integrity of our brand. The cruise industry of today is a very broad industry catering for the needs of a wide variety of people across our complete social strata, providing a product at many different levels from casual to formal, and from cheap and cheerful to five star exclusive. In other words guests can pick and choose their voyage using a variety of parameters such as price, formality, style, service, itinerary, food, entertainment etc. to suit their personal needs. I believe Cunard has a special place in this market.
  • We offer our guests our famed White Star Service and high quality cuisine, with formal nights, gala evenings and cocktail parties. Our ships are designed for the 21st century and yet pay their dues to the elegant liners of yesteryear. We are a brand steeped in tradition and legend and we take a special pride in that. I believe it is important to maintain the stability of the officers and crew and to nurture their belief in our brand, as they are our greatest asset in meeting our guests’ expectations. After all, the best salesmen for any product are those that have already sold the product to themselves.
  • If you could pick any shore excursion to go on what would it be?

    The Taj Mahal in India. This is usually a 4-5 day side trip when we visit India on the World Cruise. Last year my wife got to see the Taj Mahal but of course I had to work so all I got to see were the photographs.
  • Where would you like to go in the world?

    Macchu Picchu. My wife and I would plan to go hiking there when time permits and before we become too arthritic. Also Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands. I love remote places – but not for too long.
  • When you are on leave; what is your perfect night?

    A good steak and a bottle of red wine on my terrace at home – with my wife across the table, dog at my feet, candles burning, and some relaxing music in the background of course.
  • What would be your advice to guests who are new to cruising?

    Don’t forget your travel insurance. Insurance is one of those things that you hope you will never need to use but if you do have to use it, it is worth its weight in gold. You are buying peace of mind and it is false economy to skimp on it or make a false declaration to your insurance company to lower the price.
  • On a lighter note – you don’t have to do it all the first day. Food, drink and sun are great temptations and we tend to supply them in copious amounts. New guests will have a healthier and more enjoyable voyage if they take a steady approach to these indulgences.
    New to cruising? Discover more
  • Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?

    I think we all do. I believe the secret to continued happiness in life is always having something to look forward to. I would like to run a marathon some time but I will have to do a lot more training first. I would also like a Caterham Seven car. Maybe when my son finishes university.
  • What is the most important lesson that life has taught you?

    Not to be too judgmental. There are few people in life that we can really say we know well. Often we make our judgments on people based on very superficial criteria and regret it later.
  • What is your favourite quote and who said it?

    "What goes around comes around." I don’t know who said it, but I believe it implicitly. We all have to give a little to get a little in this life.

Discover our magnificent fleet.

  • Queen Mary 2.

    The flagship of the Cunard fleet and a true ocean liner.

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  • Queen Victoria.

    Known for her elegance and her graceful splendour.

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  • Queen Elizabeth.

    Our newest luxury liner, named in 2010 by her Majesty the Queen.

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