From Kazakhstan to Antarctica, Dr. Aizhan Kuntuova Saves Lives
In honour of National Women Physicians Day, we’re shining a light on Dr. Aizhan Kuntuova, a VIKAND doctor aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen. Dr. Kuntuova cares for passengers and crew while sailing in some of the world’s most remote destinations, including Antarctica.
Her interest in medicine began as a young child growing up in Kazakhstan. Dr. Kuntuova’s mother was a paediatrician, and encouraged her to pursue medicine. She grew up playing doctor with her three younger siblings; in fact, a life in medicine seemed almost preordained.
While studying at the international medical school in her home city from 2000 to 2008, she chose anesthesiology and intensive care. Dr. Kuntuova says she was drawn to the fast-paced challenges of critical care. She graduated with a master’s degree in medicine and started her practice as an anesthesiologist and intensive care doctor.
“The intensive care unit is difficult,” she explains. “Everything is an emergency. You learn to make high-stakes decisions and save lives under pressure.”
Her time in the ICU shaped Dr. Kuntuova both mentally and professionally, preparing her for her current role with VIKAND. In March 2022, she was working in Kazakhstan as a chief medical officer with International SOS when a former colleague recommended she apply for a position with VIKAND.
Although she was unsure at first, she took a chance anyway. “It was something new and a little scary,” she recalls. “Alone and far from home, with no one else from Kazakhstan.”
But soon after joining another Hurtigruten expedition ship, Dr. Kuntuova realised working aboard an expedition ship offered many interesting opportunities. She gets to visit seldom travelled places, such as the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and she enjoys a good work/life balance. Compared to land-based jobs, VIKAND ship doctors get proper vacations where they can relax and recharge.
She also describes the work atmosphere aboard the MS Fridtjof Nansen very positively. “We’re a team that depends on each other. I thought I was going to feel like I’m working alone, but it’s not like that at all.”
Every day, Dr. Kuntuova has new challenges and responsibilities – whether to keep an ill patient onboard or disembark, how to treat an ailment, consulting shoreside medical directors online and by phone to align on strategy, and more.
She considers her work diverse and exciting: “You need to be able to work under pressure with confidence. You must rely on your training and experience, especially with emergency cases, and not be afraid to be brave.”
“We work as one team,” she adds. “Everyone, at every level, from every department. A crew is a crew, especially when it counts, and we are there for each other socially, professionally and emotionally. We help each other stay happy and healthy.”
When she isn’t practising medicine at sea, Dr. Kuntuova returns home to Kazakhstan to rest, see friends and family, and to assist by taking shifts at her local hospital. “There have never been enough doctors in my country,” she explains.
Although she always makes time to help, Dr. Kuntuova also makes the most of her time off. Before joining VIKAND, she only took two vacations in 14 years. Now, she works three months at sea followed by three months at home.
If you work in medicine and are seeking a new chapter in your career, consider becoming a shipboard medical professional with VIKAND. We are always in search of qualified, talented people for exciting opportunities around the world.