ANZAC Day 2024: Tongan doctor reflects on her time as a Medical Officer in NZ Defence Force
Updates / News, 25 Apr 24
At the first light of dawn today, many people across the country will have gathered at their local war memorial to pay their respects to the servicemen and women who have served, or are currently serving, in the New Zealand military. As accounts are shared around the country to commemorate ANZAC Day 2024, Pacific communities are also reminded of the service and sacrifice of Pacific soldiers, specifically contingents from Niue and the Cook Islands, who were enlisted to support New Zealand during the First World War.

Over a century later, Clinical Director for the Pasifika Medical Association Medical Assistance Team (PACMAT), Dr Kalo Lalahi-Jermyn, shares her journey about serving as a former Medical Officer for the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).  

“At the beginning of medical school, a group from the Otago University Medical Corps and some recruiters came to visit our medical school cohort. I was offered the opportunity to apply for the Medical Officer Cadet Scheme a few years later. It seemed an ideal opportunity to serve medically both in NZ and overseas.” 

 Of Tongan descent, Dr Lalahi-Jermyn reflects on her international deployments.  

“My main operational deployment was to Afghanistan in 2009, providing primary care and medical advice to the NZDF and allied nations stationed at Kiwibase in Bamiyan.  

"This deployment was a challenging learning experience in so many ways, culturally, personally, military and leadership.”   

Dr Lalahi-Jermyn was also deployed locally following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, providing medical supplies and support to displaced people, as well as to Fiji following Cyclone Winston in 2016, supporting rebuild efforts and medical provisions. 

She highlights some learnings from her time in the NZDF.  

“The four values of the NZDF are courage, commitment, comradeship, and integrity. In service I was challenged to have the courage to maintain integrity in the face of unpopular opinion, to have the courage to show leadership in difficult times. I found the great security of comradeship and saw a vision that I could commit to.   

"These are aspirational and values of high morale and can be applied in all relationships and environments for good.”  

In addition to the extensive work carried out through her medical and military careers, she is also a valued member of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Group, serving as a Board Director for Etu Pasifika Canterbury and as a Clinical Advisor for the New Zealand Medical Treatment Scheme (NZMTS).  

However, she prides herself most in being a mother with strong ties to family and her Tongan culture.  

“Often we underestimate the value of learning in one part of our lives, and how it can benefit another area in our life. For example, culturally I found growing up with an expectation of correct cultural behaviour was useful on deployment in Afghanistan. 

"My willingness to share personal experiences and stories with patients is a freedom that I get from both my cultural heritage, and through the military experience of often living with, sharing close experiences with, and being friends with my patients. 

“I also find that I am a better doctor since becoming a mother as my ability to connect with patients through shared experience is expanded.” 

Reflecting on what today means for her, Dr Lalahi-Jermyn will be commemorating ANZAC Day with her loved ones by her side.  

“Having lost friends and close colleagues in service, having family that served in WWII and seeing what our service people have given for the freedom and wellbeing of others, ANZAC Day is a time I take for myself to remember those I have personally lost. My husband and I involve our kids and remind them of what it can take to really care for others.”