My Best Day as a Pharmacist: Indonesia: The Road Less Traveled

Author: Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD


The winner of our second annual essay contest shares her experiences on a humanitarian mission in Indonesia.
Pharmacy Times’ second annual essay contest, which asked readers to share their best day as a pharmacist, elicited a wide variety of responses—our editors read entries that ranged from inspirational to nostalgic to humorous. Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, won this year’s contest with a memory that shows in a dramatic way the extraordinary lengths to which pharmacists will go to help patients, despite the personal discomfort that sometimes ensues.

Certainly pharmacists do not need to travel across the world to make a difference—each pharmacy professional has an impact on patients every day, in ways both big and small. To read more inspiring stories from your colleagues, click here for the essays from our runners-up.


My best day as a pharmacist left me sweaty, nauseous, and plagued by a doxycycline-induced sunburn.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Last summer, I spent 6 weeks aboard a US Naval ship with the Pacific Partnership humanitarian mission. When I was asked to volunteer for Pacific Partnership, the prospect of leaving my life behind for a month and a half was terrifying for many reasons—not least among them, my notorious motion sickness. A half-hour car ride left me moaning and miserable; how was I going to survive 6 weeks at sea? But with the support of my family and friends, and an economy-sized supply of scopolamine patches, I set sail.

Traveling to 4 partner nations in Southeast Asia, over a thousand volunteers established clinics and provided medical, dental, optometry, and pharmaceutical care services to tens of thousands of individuals. I was sent to shore in Indonesia, which was gorgeous—breathtaking, really. But we had no time to relax and enjoy the view, because there was work to be done.

And was it ever hard work! Setting up our clinic in a schoolyard, we brought in all of our own supplies. Enough food and water for several days, medical instruments and pharmaceuticals, even the dental chairs—all of this had to be carried in by hand, so we immediately started hauling crates in the 120°F weather. It was the closest thing to hard labor this academic pharmacist had ever experienced.

Over the next few days, we treated a nonstop stream of Indonesian patients who lined up in droves to be seen by US practitioners. As the pharmacy was the last stop in the clinic, we worked through lunch and were always the last ones to finish at the end of our 10-hour days. Over 3.5 days, in stifling heat and humidity, my 2 technicians and I dispensed 2245 prescriptions for 1034 patients.

By the time we were supposed to head back to the ship, I was utterly exhausted. When we discovered high seas had delayed our departure, I didn’t think things could get much worse. Until, that is, we learned that bad weather had damaged our lifeboats and we’d need to be airlifted out, or “extracted by helicopter” as the military called it. That sure didn’t sound good.

But as we made our way to the makeshift helicopter landing zone, my attitude changed. Indonesian citizens leaned out of balconies to yell thank you. Drivers waved American flags and honked their horns. Children ran out to hold our hands and march up the street with us. Everyone was so incredibly thankful for our time and our service. I was touched by the outpouring of gratitude we experienced.

So yes, I was miserably hot and the helicopter ride left me unbelievably nauseous. Yes, my malaria prophylaxis had precipitated a terrible sunburn. But at the end of the day, thinking back on the smiles of the Indonesian people and a job well done, I knew I’d never been happier to be a pharmacist.


Dr. Risoldi Cochrane is assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska.