VSA volunteer Katie Croom has seven years of nursing experience in New Zealand and Australia, and now she is sharing her skills with the nurses at the National Hospital in Honiara, Solomon Islands. She is part of the Infection Prevention and Control team, a role that varies from maintaining pest control standards to the safe management of needles.

At home in Masterton, Wairarapa, Katie worked as a high-dependency nurse, but she now finds herself learning about water tanks as a Nursing Education Mentor at the national hospital in Honiara. Why does a nurse need to know about water tanks? Because pest control is important in hospitals everywhere, and on a VSA assignment you’ll find yourself dealing with all sorts of issues. 

“I’m so observant with water tanks now like I can see that the water tank here [at home] has a rat net. There’s an open pipe, then the open tank, and there’s a net on the top which stops animals from getting in.”

The hospital needs the same protection and since Katie is working in the Infection Prevention and Control team, she has been ensuring that all the water tanks are properly sealed. That task is not strictly a nursing role, but she takes a holistic approach to her role – an attitude that could explain why Kiwi advisers are highly valued in the Solomons.

Katie’s nursing team is something she loves about living in the Solomons. “It’s like I’ve got eight mothers and they’re all looking after me, and when I’m sick, they pray for me. I’ve travelled a decent amount, but I’ve never felt so welcomed, so embraced. The people in the Solomons are so warm and open and genuine. That has been a highlight.” 

In some ways, the work-life in Honiara is not so different from New Zealand. Katie describes how at home the ward would do a coffee run, but here it’s a coconut run. “A couple of us will collect money from the team and go to the market next to the hospital for a round of fresh coconuts with straws. It’s such a classic tropical island thing! I love it.”

Honiara is not generally regarded as an easy place to live, but it was Katie’s first choice for a VSA role. “I enjoy the island life, it's easygoing, low stress, people aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere; you’ll get there when you get there, in island time. There are always children playing around which feels like a very wholesome childhood – they’re not inside on devices. I like that people are inter-connected, the family unit is so important here. And I like that the Solomons is not such a tourist destination. It feels a bit more intrepid.”