Shalvin Chandra never thought he would work in healthcare, let alone discover a hidden passion that would launch him into a career as a nurse. But joining the NPHS Southern COVID-19 Response Team as a Case Contact Investigator has done just that.

Originally from Fiji, Shalvin moved to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2010 and has now settled in Five Rivers, a small farming community right between Invercargill, Te Anau and Queenstown, with his wife and two young daughters.

“When I left school I studied IT but knew early on that it wasn’t for me,” said Shalvin. “I then moved into tourism and became the manager of Smugglers Cove, a famous 5-star resort in Fiji.”

After a few years in this role Shalvin was approached by a couple who had holidayed at the resort, seen his talent and ability, and asked him to come manage the Manapouri Lodge in Te Anau. He has been a member of the Southern community ever since.

“When I first arrived, it was so cold. I would walk around wearing three jackets and get strange looks… because it was summer,” laughed Shalvin. “Eventually I got used to it, joined the local rugby team and was a volunteer firefighter for several years. I loved Te Anau.”

But life can sometimes take an unexpected twist, as Shalvin’s journey shows.

“Because I lived in a small rural community, I would constantly hear people talk about dairy farming. I started to get really interested in it and eventually my wife and I went to work on a dairy farm.” Shalvin worked his way up to being a farm manager but realised it wasn’t the right career for him. His wife however loved it and thrived in the role as a dairy farm manager loving the early mornings and being outdoors.

“So, I went and worked at Queenstown Airport as an Airport Movement Controller for Jetstar and Virgin Australia. I loved being around aircraft. That was where I was when COVID hit in 2020… and we all know what happened to the aviation industry.”

Shalvin got to see first-hand the work that Public Health did at the airport and became a COVID-19 tester. “I got to know Chelsea Wallace (Regulatory and Protection Team Leader) and Susan Moore (COVID-19 Manager) through the work at the airport so when the opportunity came up to become a contact tracer I jumped at the chance.”

It only took his first case investigation for his potential to be noticed by Lou Oldham, Communicable Disease Clinical Nurse Specialist.

“After my first case investigation Lou came to me and said I should be a nurse because I’d done such a good job of it. I had asked the right questions, listened, and covered everything I needed to. That comment struck a chord and I started to think about it,” said Shalvin. “Six months later she again said to me that I was in the wrong field and that I should be a nurse. By this point I knew she was right, so I signed up to study nursing part time with SIT.”

Shalvin is excelling at his nursing studies and getting A+ marks, something that helps motivate him. “Whenever I get a mark back, I show it to Lou. I am so grateful to her for seeing the potential I have as a nurse and for pushing me to really consider it as a career. I never imagined I would be a nurse, but I know that it is the right career for me.”

Shalvin says some of the highlights working in the COVID-19 team have been learning Te Reo and getting to speak the language every day, connecting with his daughters more by being able to work from home, working with a team that really came together like a family and supported each other throughout the COVID-19 response, and ultimately the work itself.

“Helping the vulnerable people in our communities and those who are living alone has been a real personal highlight for me. If we hadn’t called them and looked after them, who would’ve?”

“It's funny how life can turn out. It took me a long time to find my passion, we don’t all follow the right career path when we are younger, but I am lucky enough to have finally found mine in nursing.”

If all his studies go to plan, Shalvin should be on placements by the end of 2023 and a qualified nurse by the end of 2024. “I am going to be a communicable disease nurse and work in public health. I absolutely love it!”