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Air Force recruit trades Auckland exotic vet clinic for medical front line

Aircraftsman Nicole Fraser’s used to operating outside the norm.

10 January, 2024

A trained veterinary nurse, she’s spent the past year working in New Zealand’s only exotic vet clinic in Auckland’s Mount Albert.

“I specialised in nursing exotic animals. This meant that I dealt with everything weird and wonderful. From syringe feeding giant koi fish, to looking after sick penguins, to monitoring surgery on lizards,” she says. 

But now, Aircraftsman Fraser is switching out her four-legged patients for a new career altogether, training to be a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) medic.

“I know that I will continue to be challenged, but I’m extremely excited for it,” she said.

Born in New Plymouth, Fraser spent most of her youth in Auckland, attending Ormiston Senior College in Flat Bush.

The Taranaki-born recruit completed her RNZAF training in December and will join the Defence Health School at Burnham Military Camp in February, where she will complete three years of study in paramedicine, the longest trade course offered in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

“After completing qualifications and working full-time as a vet nurse, I realised that I really wanted to work in an environment that could allow me to grow and challenge myself more, which has aligned well with the Defence Force, and especially the RNZAF.

“I have a real drive to do something bigger than myself. I want to get stuck in and make a difference,” she said.

When she was little, she loved the idea of joining the NZDF and “being brave and doing cool activities”.

Now she’s able to do just that, while combining it with her love of medicine.

She spent 14 weeks at RNZAF Base Woodbourne completing the RNZAF’s basic training, which all new recruits go through.

“I have loved learning an array of new, extremely useful skills. We’ve been taught things like comprehensive weapons training, navigation, field skills, and radio communications. All of this knowledge is something that you would never learn in civilian life, which is why it’s so awesome to experience it,” she said.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. A stand-out challenge for her was something most people would overlook.

“I was the only left-handed recruit on the course. Although our standard issue rifle is considered ambidextrous, I still struggled with drills and such due to everything being flipped.

“In general, I find that being left-handed on a course that is highly skills-based is hard, as I am always that one recruit who does it backwards, or there simply isn’t a left-handed version.”

Supported by the strong bonds made with the other recruits, she was able to overcome this challenge and any others she faced during training.

She hoped this latest step in her career would allow her to continue learning and growing as a person, and she recommended a career in the NZDF to others.

“Be ready to feel tired, stretched mentally, and challenged like never before. It’s going to feel hard and like a long time, but once it’s over you will be immensely proud of who you’ve become.”

Aircraftsman Fraser was excited to start her course and said there would be a lot of overlap in knowledge she could bring from her previous career.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunities to deploy overseas and make a difference.”