Working in a Hospital in Solomon Islands
Special information for doctors
Before you apply:
Please read all general information
first, then read the rest of this document!
You can work as a volunteer or as a Public Servant
with a contract as an official employee of the Public Service
For Swiss doctors: recognition by
Public Servants: consultants/fully qualified specialists or
Volunteers: consultants/fully qualified specialists or
registrars (="Assistenzärzte" in Switzerland)
A few notes:
Be flexible and open for everything.
A retired Swiss GP, who intended to spend about six months
as a volunteer doctor in Solomon Islands wrote:
Perhaps I am simply too old to drop all my habits
acquired during my professional life in Switzerland, but I
found it most difficult to cope with the different kind of
working methods: to make a diagnosis without a blood pressure
gauge, a stethoscope, or even a simple flashlight. To quickly
prescribe antibiotics, but pay less attention to simple rules
of hygiene or antisepsis like washing hands, skin cleaning,
removal of pus, etc.
Dr Oberli comments:
Never forget: thousands of patients have been treated
under less than ideal conditions in Solomon Islands. Thirty
years ago, when I entered the only OT in Samoa for the first
time, I felt like working in a not overly clean laundry. Two
years and more than 100 major stomach operations later, I had
a slightly different attitude...
Diagnostic work is based on a precise medical history,
good clinical examination and limited or no technology
- A Swiss student wrote in Summer 2004:
It is really amazing, how local doctors (especially
consultants) can rely on their power of observation and
their palpation skills. Because many diagnostic means of
the Western world are simply not available (e.g. CT), the
local doctors are probably much more experienced in
diagnosis by observation and palpation than some of our
doctors at home with access to all kinds of facilities,
and for us students it is always worth peeking over a
doctor's shoulder during a status assessment.
A Swiss volunteer registrar, who intended to stay three
Since I knew that anesthesiology was a limiting factor
in the hospital, I had spent two months in a department of
anesthesiology before I came here. I informed the superiors
about this, but was nevertheless assigned to Orthopedics.
From my point of view this was a misassignment of
Dr Oberli comments:
In government administered hospitals only fully
qualified anesthetists are allowed to work on their own, and
even then some initial training period will be required.
Therefore the registrar could just have assisted a
specialist, but with only one specialist available, this
would not have helped improve the situation.
Your initiative is required. If you look for it, you will
find many useful things to do, but the chronically overworked
doctors will hardly have the time to point it out to you. For
the same reason, don't expect much introduction to your work.
The registrar cited above wrote:
I was never properly introduced to my work. Nobody
showed me the forms used or explained the general work
routine in the department.
Registrars should be willing to be on duty and accept
responsibility according to their experience. The registrar
Duty service was never mentioned, I was simply put on
duty after two weeks.
Working as a registrar in a provincial hospital requires
the presence of a fully qualified specialist in this
If you expect a fully qualified specialist in your field of
interest to be present during your volunteer time, ask before
But here is no guarantee that a knowledgeable superior is
always present, as the previously cited registrar found
After my first work week in Orthopedics, my immediate
superior went on vacation, then caught malaria, and finally
appended another week of vacation. It was rather frustrating,
because whenever I had questions regarding orthopedics, I was
referred to my absent superior. In a country, where medicine
is quite different from what I am used to, I just did not get
the support I had expected. As I was not prepared to do
operations I had never done before under supervision, the
conditions for me were less than ideal. [Note:
Unfortunately, at this time Dr Oberli had already left
Solomon Islands and the hospital was without an Orthopedics
He continued: After one month I came to the conclusion
that coming here as a specialist is probably more rewarding
for the volunteer and the hospital, and decided to terminate
my stay. Altogether I had an interesting time, but I do not
regret having left early.
Working at NRH: being a fully qualified specialist
allows you to train others. Experience in or extensive knowledge
of tropical medicine not required, but of course an asset.
Working in a provincial hospital: well trained and
experienced nurses usually handle most routine cases, therefore
you, as a doctor, are expected to take care of the more complex
ones. This requires a broad general medical knowledge as well as
some practical experience in gynecology, anesthesiology, and
minor surgery. Again, some experience in or knowledge of tropical
medicine is an advantage. Be aware, that your resources
(available instruments and drugs) will often be very limited.
Availability of other things may also be limited as the Swiss
GP cited above reported:
The little hospital is run quite well, especially the
reproduction ward. There were only two patients, both well looked
after given the limited resources available. Laundry was only
possible with cold water as the washing machine no longer worked
because a hose was missing. The hospital could not provide meals
for the patients, the patients' families had to feed them. I
unsuccessfully tried to find another accommodation, as staying in
the hotel would have been too expensive in the long run. There
were only two shops in town, where one could buy oil, rice, tuna
and soap, but nothing else.
The GP decided to return to Honiara and leave Solomon Islands
again after about one month.
Minimum duration of stay:
Volunteers: minimum should be three months, but since it takes
about eight to ten weeks until you are productive in the new
environment, you should stay at least four months, preferably six
Public Servants: one year, usually two years
Part time work (e.g. for couples):
Most likely possible, ask when you apply.
In any case, ask when you apply.
As volunteer for up to 6 months: usually none at all, i.e. you
will have to pay for your travel costs, accommodation, food,
As volunteer for 6 months or more: you may get a small
allowance, but do not expect much. If you are lucky, you might
even get free housing.
As Public Servant: ask.
For volunteers: the Jubilee
House (not for free) for registrars at NRH if a room is
available, otherwise you have to organize something on your own
(see General Information).
For Public Servants: hopefully free housing is provided.
Where and how to apply:
Click here if you want to
Temporary Registration with the Medical Board
is required for Public Servants and volunteers and can be
applied for in advance or after your arrival.
Photocopies of documents required for registration:
- Copies of medical certifications (diploma, certificate,
- Copy of recent registration from a medical board or a
letter of good standing from the board. If not applicable,
evidence of being registered as a medical doctor in your
country of current practice.
- Copies of previous or present medical registrations in
Solomon Islands, if any.
- At least two written references
- Medical clearance
Either a specific report form or a letter or statement about
your health status written by a physician (in English of
- Police clearance
How to get one in:
- A copy of the acceptance letter, fax or e-mail from the
hospital you are going to work.
Note: Even if you apply for registration in advance, it
is probably a good idea to bring those copies along anyway, just
To apply in advance send your application letter together with
copies (no originals) of the above mentioned documents to:
The Chairman Medical and Dental Board of Solomon Islands
Ministry of Health and Medical Services
PO Box 349
The chairman of the board is the Undersecretary Health Care
(contact us for the e-mail
A final note: applying in advance for a working permit does
not necessarily always speed up the immigration process. A Swiss
volunteer doctor wrote in summer 2003: I spent a long time
going through immigration, I am not sure if this was in spite of
or due to my papers from the Government.
Travel documents required:
Passport, visa, working
Links to more Travel
- a travel guide
- a book about health care in
- If your mother tongue is not English, a medical English
book is a must. Whatever you get, make sure it also
lists the many abbreviations used in medical
English terminology! Readers whose mother tongue is German,
find a highly recommended book here.
- a Pidgin dictionary is
recommended. But you can also purchase one locally.
Do you have specific questions? Doubts? Contact us.