MILITARY PHARMACY: DISPENSING IMPROVED HEALTH CARE OUTCOMES

Susan Farley
Published Online: Monday, January 1, 2007

SERVING THE UNITED STATES IN the armed forces is a daunting endeavor, especially in the current world climate. Recruiting is on the decline, and therefore, staffing all the necessary positions to support all 4 services has become a challenge. The misconception is that anyone who joins the military will be expected to become warriors and fight. That is not the case; the reality is that the armed services has offered and continues to offer tremendous opportunities to men and women interested in a variety of professions, including pharmacy. Bases all over the world have clinics and pharmacies that require highly trained pharmacists to use their clinical knowledge to improve the health care of servicemen.

Military service has always been a part of life for Justin Eubanks, LT, MSC, USN, who grew up in a Navy family with a father who rode submarines. After joining the Coast Guard reserves, he accepted a Navy scholarship to attend pharmacy school and found the military atmosphere to be a natural fit. After graduating from the University of Georgia with his PharmD, LT Eubanks went to work at the Newport Naval Station in Newport, RI, at the base's ambulatory health care center, where he has been for the last year and a half.

COMMANDING PRESENCE

As an officer, leadership is an important part of Lt Eubanks' job as a military pharmacist. "When you graduate, you are still learning, but [in the military] you are expected to be a leader right away. You are responsible to your staff for their ability to get promoted and stay out of trouble." He adds, "I guarantee that I work with some of the best people in the world. They are hospital corpsmen first and the hardest-working, best-trained, most dedicated people."

At the clinic, LT Eubanks' biggest responsibility is pharmacy management, including staff and budget. In addition to military personnel, the base clinic employs civilian pharmacists who bear the brunt of the dispensing. While he is able to spend time on the "front line" at the window, he manages a staff of well-trained, highly competent, military pharmacy technicians. At the clinic, there are active military personnel and their dependents, as well as retirees. Most of his patient population tends to be younger, but with the retirees, the pharmacy sees its share of diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "We don't see a lot of rare diseases. Many of our patients have been screened. You're not going to see a lot of MS [multiple sclerosis] for example."

Military pharmacies are adopting some of the same initiatives as civilian pharmacies, such as wellness clinics and preventive care. "We are trying to get clinics started here. That is definitely one of our initiatives. The Navy is encouraging those kinds of things— keeping costs for health care down by giving sound advice and medication therapy management and preventing wasteful, improper use of medication."

Besides working at the clinic, LT Eubanks serves on a Pharmacy and Therapeutics committee, as well as performing collateral duties within his command that are not related to pharmacy. For example, he and his staff take part in regular physical training, or "PT," a requirement of the command. "These things distinguish me from my counterparts. I am an officer first," says LT Eubanks.

JOIN THE NAVY, SEE THE WORLD

The Navy scholarship requires LT Eubanks to serve 3 years of active duty, which will be spent in Newport as part of a 3-to 4-year rotation. Beyond that, the travel opportunities afforded to him at his job are far and wide. "Some of my colleagues have traveled to Guam, Italy, Japan. If your interest is to see different parts of the world, then this is a great opportunity." Pharmacists may accommodate requests from other sites requiring temporary help, such as the pharmacy at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They also are allotted time for continuing education conferences and participation in recruiting activities.

When recruiting, LT Eubanks relates the day-to-day aspects of military pharmacy, what it means to be a pharmacist in the military, including the considerable responsibility. "People are scared," says LT Eubanks. "They hear military and are bombarded with negative aspects." One thing LT Eubanks wants to make clear is, "if the Navy hires you [to be a pharmacist], your primary job is to be a pharmacist—not a nurse, not a gate guard, not carrying a weapon. They have hired specialists for those reasons. I am working in my field, just doing slightly different things. One of my biggest things is to reassure [pharmacy students] that once the Navy invests the time, effort, and money to get you hired, they will want you to use your skill set, your specialty."

EXPANDING HORIZONS

One advantage to a career in military pharmacy is the growth potential. Residency programs are available through the Navy, where there is a genuine interest in seeing their people advance and better themselves. A military pharmacist can pursue a PhD, study pharmacoeconomics or telepharmacy, get a masters of business administration or an information technology degree, become advanced cardiac life support-certified, or attend field medicine school. According to LT Eubanks, there are boundless opportunities to improve and change the course of your career. "It is up to you. I am young, brand new. All the time, I am seeing opportunities for advanced training, degrees, opportunities that you might not get on the outside. There is unlimited growth potential. It is what you make of it."

Within the military, there is the added pressure of serving one's country, but also the rewards that go with that duty. "I have to say, when you see who you are working alongside of, it makes you proud to serve. You are a pharmacist, but you are wearing the same uniform as patriots. It makes a huge difference when you put on this uniform," says LT Eubanks. "You are really aware of whom you are working for and who you are working with."

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.




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