Federal legislation was enacted in 1790 requiring every American flag vessel over 150 tons with a crew of ten or more, to carry a medicine chest. Most merchant ships did not carry anyone with advanced medical training and relied on instructions inside the chest for basic medical care. There was no Government issued manual for standardized medical guidance for almost a hundred years after the passage of the 1790 law. Merchant seamen were left to consult the “how to” manuals published by private physicians.
Not any more! Not on the TS Kennedy! Sea Term medical staff is ready, willing and most certainly able! Outside of cruise ships and large military vessels, the TS Kennedy is one of the most advanced, medically equipped and staffed ships on the seas today.
The Kennedy will be staffed 24/7 with a physician specializing in Emergency Medicine, a Nurse Practitioner, a Paramedic with a masters degree in Emergency Management, and a Counselor. In addition, three cadet medical officers known as Medical Rates, will be trained in dealing with emergencies at sea and will be at the ready to lend assistance. There is also support from UMass Medical School, where one satellite phone call can access specialty physicians from infectious diseases to hand surgeons, all able to provide state-of-the-art medical advice. The ship carries equipment from tongue depressors to portable ultra sound machines and defibrillators. Also, it must carry it’s own pharmacy – a large array and a large quantity - enough meds to treat the whole illness, not just the first dose. This floating classroom is equipped to treat its 600 plus cadets and 100 plus staff, faculty and crew for anything from broken bones to a heart attack. Dr. Jeffrey Cukor, the Academy Physician and Medical Director shared that, “Although we equip and prepare to handle many medical and traumatic conditions, we emphasize prevention! Health, safety and hygiene becomes the responsibility of everyone on board.” Dr. Cukor further explains that “while Sea Term is truly a great adventure, it is also a great responsibility and that the officers, crew and most definitely the medical department, are all committed to bringing the ship’s most important cargo, the human one, back home safe and healthy.”
MMA medicine at sea also includes “travel medicine”, as cadets ship out and travel around the globe. MMA Health Services prepares multiple travel medicine briefs for cadets wherever the winds take them, including exchange programs in Panama and China. These briefs focus on local health risks, illness prevention and local health resources available in case of injury or illness. The Department also provides clearance and medical support for those exchange countries students who come here to Buzzards Bay.
Medicine at sea has certainly come a long way since 1790!