Buin Health Centre (BHC) in Bougainville has a team of clinical staff, mostly nurses, who have formal qualifications and experience but have gaps in their skills in aspects of unit management that range from rostering and staff management to monitoring clinical standards and budgeting. VSA volunteer, Sarah Togher, assigned as a Unit Nurse Mentor, is contributing to improving a wide range of nursing management skills required to run a unit within the BHC.

Sarah Togher has over 40 years of nursing experience including both mental and general health nursing. She progressed to leadership positions in the UK before she emigrated to New Zealand where she gained several years of experience in clinical management and education roles. Since the only nursing school in Bougainville lacks the adequate resources to extend the curriculum to cover a wide range of skills required by senior unit managers, Sarah plays a crucial role in understanding the needs of BHC and executing an appropriate plan of action.

With my previous volunteering experience, I knew it is important not to rush things and to go with the flow. Therefore, I have spent the first few months settling into the island life—both at the workplace and in the local community. Establishing relationships, and building trust and confidence are essential to any volunteering assignment. Add to this, I have been meeting with my counterparts regularly checking in with them, discussing the agreed objectives, and breaking them down into ‘bite-size achievements’.”

Sarah spends her time in each of the hospital departments observing clinical practices and accompanying the nurses on visits to local schools as part of the immunisation and health awareness programmes. The core objective is to get the bigger picture of the needs of the staff and hospital to understand where and how they want to be supported.

“I have also met with the staff at Arawa Hospital, which is 3.5 hours away by road from Buin. These visits have been fruitful since I get to meet with the Medical Director and the Director of the School of Nursing to gain a deeper understanding of their objectives and ways of working as a frame of reference.”

Apart from building relationships at the workplace, Sarah is also deeply invested in forming community relations. She was recently invited as a speaker at the local primary school Independence Day celebrations.

“Bougainvilleans are extremely hospitable, there is always a wave and a smile for ‘whita meri’—white lady. However, Buin can feel very isolating. So, I actively engage in local community activities, church on Sundays, catch up with colleagues at the Saturday market and bake a cake weekly to share at staff meetings, or just because it’s a Friday! I believe these activities go hand-in-hand with gaining a complete volunteering experience!”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my volunteering journey so far and I keenly look forward to the coming months. A new hospital is being planned; this is a real motivator for the staff to raise standards in preparation. I’m glad to be here to help and support the team.”