Levin nurse Gail Corbett is one of three New Zealand nurses who received the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international nursing award, from Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy on Tuesday night at Government House in Wellington.
All three Red Cross nurses received the medal for their work in war zones and during the Ebola outbreak. Barbara Turnbull, of Dunedin, Gail Corbett, of Levin, and Guru Dev Singh, of Wellington have spent several years working in the world's most complex and critical humanitarian crises.
Gail Corbett has worked in Somalia, Gaza, Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan, where she established teaching programmes and worked to improve patient care. She has been praised for her "incredibly gutsy and difficult" work in Gaza, a Red Cross spokesperson said.
Ms Corbett previously specialised as a neonatal nurse in New Zealand.
She said she had very much enjoyed nursing in New Zealand but by 2010 decided she wanted to do something different and useful, using her nursing skills and experience.
She currently works in Kandahar, Afghanistan. "I work on building capacity and strengthening services available in a 600-bed hospital," she said.
"The hospital cares for a lot of women giving birth, and a lot of children and then there's the wound trauma care. The International Red Cross has been working there since 1996. The local health department is very stretched so they need our kind of help to keep the hospital open."
Gail trains local doctors, nurses and ICUs.
"The Red Cross has a very sound security system to keep us all safe, we talk a lot to the local population and have local staff rather than armed guards. These people keep us informed of developments around us. We spend a lot of time talking, to ensure they population knows who we are and what we are doing. They give us lots of help in return."
"Skype is wonderful," she said. "I ring my family regularly or they ring me."
She came home this week for a few days to receive her medal. She expects to remain Kandahar until the end of the year. Then there'll be time for a break, and time with family.
"I usually have a few months off between assignments," she said.
For their work in tough places in 2017, 39 nurses from 22 countries have been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal which was created at the international congress of Red Cross societies in London in 1907 and instituted in 1912. Since then 1483 medals have been awarded, two posthumously. Of those 31 went to New Zealanders.