I recently returned from my first contract... boy does it feel good to be home!!
Here's what I learned:
-Even though you, as a nurse, are an officer-- which should give you additional privileges, it is entirely ship specific. The captain/staff captain can make or break your experience. If they respect and value the medical team, then you will be treated well. If they view the medical team as "just numbers," then you will be treated like crap by all of the shipboard management.
-The majority of the job is ridiculous amounts of paperwork and crew primary care. Passengers generally stay out of the medical center unless they have legit complaints (I said "generally"!!!).
-The comforts of knowing you have a fully capable lab, blood products, CT scan, fully stocked pharmacy, etc-- throw it out the window! Creativity and trust in your assessment skills will get you far. Trust your "nurse instincts."
-Keep your mind open! Your fellow nurses and doctors will be from all around the world. You can learn a ton from them!
-Be nice to the galley staff! They'll bring you all kinds of yummy desserts (all fat-free, of course!).
-Find a friend and get off the ship whenever you can! It's easy to not even see the outdoors for days at a time due to the way you live on a ship and the lack of outdoor crew areas. When in port, use the fact that you work on the ship to your advantage! You can get very reduced and even free excursions, taxis, and admittance fees to various attractions.
-Take lots of pictures and write down a little blurb about it before you forget! You'll see so many places and do so much that after 4 months, you'll forget all about it!
-Go with a goal. My goal was to save as much money as I could so I could pay off some student loans. I had to remind myself of that all the time! There was so much cool stuff I could have bought!
-Suitcases are HEAVY and expensive to bring with you. Pack the minimum. You can buy toiletries once you're on the ship. They take up a ton of room and weigh a lot. The prices in the crew mart are very reasonable.
-Internet and phone calls are expensive. Prepare to go low-tech.
-Most of all, have fun!! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'm so glad I did!!