Acupuncture on the Seas

Acupuncture on the Seas

Acupuncture on the SeasEver consider taking your practice traveling? Recently, on an online discussion several practitioners expressed an interest in working aboard a ship.  Marie Veverka, a graduate of Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, shared bits about her experience working as a cruise ship acupuncturist.  She was kind enough to give longer responses to me in a private message.

Marie started doing cruise ship acupuncture because she  wanted to travel.  Unfortunately she didn’t have the money.  A friend had worked on a cruise ship.  Marie called her and found out how to go about applying.  She worked on ships on and off for two years.

I asked Marie how an acupuncturist gets placed  and she said, “My first contract was in the Mediterranean working on a Princess ship and my second and 3rd contracts were working for Crystal Cruises which travels all over the world. When you apply for cruise ships, you apply to Steiner and they contract you out to different cruise lines. You can request a region and tell them where you want to go, but that doesn’t mean you will get it. If you have a certain area you want to travel to, you may have to wait until they offer you a ship you really want. The longer you work for them and the better you do on board, the better ship offers you get.”

Having cruised a few times, I knew many of the crew members had other duties around the ship. While acupuncturists will probably have to participate in emergency drills, most duties will revolve around the spa area.  An acupuncturist may have to do some reception work or random tasks to fill in.  They are also commonly required to give seminars.  Marie said, ” If you are not keeping yourself busy enough, they may send you to a common area on the ship to do sample treatments or had out brochures.”

One disadvantage of the work is that sometimes you are required to be part of IPM, which means “in port manning.” The cruise ship has to maintain a certain number of  crew on board even while in port in case of an emergency.  This prevents the practitioner from being able to have the day to explore.  Instead they have to stay aboard the ship.

Many of the crew work very long hours during the cruise.  Acupuncturists fair a bit better than the wait staff and cleaning staff. Marie said, “As an acupuncturist, you are required to work 52 hours a week. You work 12 hours on all sea days and other than that, you should be able to make your own schedule. .. I usually saw most ports and I escaped IPM most of the time I worked on board. We often had 12 day cruises so I would take 52, divide it by 7 (this amounts to about 7.5 hours a day), and then multiply that number of days on the cruise so I could figure out my hours per cruise. This sounds like a lot, but keep in mind, sea days eat up hours and you can schedule yourself for a few hours in the morning and a few in the evening, take a morning off entirely, or whatever to coordinate with the hours the ship is in port. ”

Marie was quick to point out that if acupuncturists are required to work more or have difficulties on board, they have a very nice management team on shore to back them up.

Earning potential varies depending upon where you travel.  Marie says that you probably earn the most in the Caribbean or Mexico but she wanted to see the world.  Her earnings were about $3000 to $4000 per month.  She had no rent or food bills while on board either.

Marie says, “I am a small ship girl, but that is because I like smaller ports that are less touristy. Big ships are fun, but less personal and it is much easier to get lost in the mix. I always chose ships on itinerary. I would get offered a ship, look it up online and check to see where it would be going. If I wanted to go there, I was in. Plus, I told them what I was looking for. If you want to make money, let them know. If you want to travel to really exotic places tell them. Unfortunately, you are less likely to make a ton of money traveling to exotic places, but it is oh so much fun!”

I was curious about products and limitations.   Moxa is not allowed on board, which is no surprise given that fire is a huge hazard on a ship.  There is also no gua sha or cupping.  There is an herbal line of products that can be used.  Acupuncturists are encouraged to sell the products on board.   Practitioners are also encouraged to cross promote other therapies.

So do people use acupuncture on board a ship?  If so what sorts of things do they come for? Marie said she saw lots of back pain and sciatic pain on board.   On the smaller ships where she worked, most people were older and retired, which meant that there were a lot of kidney issues.  She used a lot of kidney tonic formulas.  On a larger ship, she theorizes that Spleen qi formulas and Liver Qi stagnation formulas would be the big sellers.

Many people are feeling adventurous on a cruise and try acupuncture for the first time.  Marie tried very hard to get them in at least three times.  She felt that most people would start seeing some sort of result in those three treatments.  Encouraging frequent treatments helped patients understand that an acupuncturist isn’t a miracle worker but it did allow them to see benefit.  She encouraged patients to continue with their treatments when their cruise was finished.

The people who had had acupuncture before all saw “the best acupuncturist in the world”.  Marie was careful to explain that her style might be different from their regular practitioner.  Explaining that each person has  a unique style allowed most patients to relax and enjoy the treatment on board.  There is always one person though. Marie recalls, “one guy… thought I had terrible technique and didn’t know what I was doing because I only put 14 needles in.”

Many people have practices but would like to cruise.  Is it possible to do both?  Marie said it  can be difficult.  She was mostly just cruising and doing some house calls when back at home.  She was also resting up for the next cruise, which she says is exhausting.

“One of my biggest recommendations for acupuncturists on cruise ships is get out and about on the ship. I took full advantage of the shore excursion department. You can volunteer to escort excursions on your time off which is an excellent way to go on great tours for free and to meet guests on the ship! As I got to know the shore-ex team, they started sending me on progressively more amazing tours, it was totally awesome. Plus, my manager loved it and encouraged me to go because I was always bringing in new patients that way. I also went to all the cruise events I could. People will recognize you from your picture in the cruise daily, lectures, or even the cruise TV program (if you decide to do it) and they will stop and ask you questions. I would chat with them a bit and often walk to the nearest phone and schedule an appointment for them right there.”

If you’re ready to travel, consider looking into working aboard a cruise ship and see the world!


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Bonnie Koenig has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999. She is passionate about helping people find real healing and real health. In the process she keeps asking about our attitudes towards sickness and health. Only by being clear on what sickness is, can we ever find health.

One thought on “Acupuncture on the Seas”

  1. Thank you for sharing this info! I have been back and forth about taking my practice on the water. I am a retired Yacht Stewardess and miss traveling. After two years of building my practice online I’m ready to embark new adventures and get out of the town I’m living. I have big goals and dreams and I think it’s time I move forward with this experience.

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