Army Pharmacists Keep Troops, Families Healthy in War and in Peace

SEPTEMBER 01, 2008
Susan Farley

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

Located in Honolulu, Hawaii, Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) provides care for active-duty and retired military personnel and their families for the entire Pacific region. As a ?projection platform,? where troops go before being deployed, TAMC makes sure troops are fit to fight, which means pharmacists screen every soldier and make sure that they are outfitted with all their medications. Upon their return, pharmacists ensure the soldiers have no gaps in care. Although the workload increased exponentially after 2001, TAMC?s American Society of Health-System Pharmacists?accredited residency program is one of the premiere opportunities available to pharmacists today.

The residency program accepts 2 active-duty and 2 civilian residents each year. Uniformed pharmacists will go on to complete 3 years of active-duty service following their residency. While equipped with the same skills and training, these pharmacists follow a slightly different path, as their roles require leadership skills and training. The military relies on its officers to be managers within the pharmacy department, while the civilians serve as staff pharmacists and pharmacy specialists. Civilian pharmacists are not obligated to serve as military or government employees upon completion of residency, but many are hired to work at TAMC.

Brian White, PharmD, a graduate of the University of California-San Francisco pharmacy school, completed his residency at TAMC as an active-duty officer and remained an officer for 6 years. He has since transitioned to the civilian side. White was attracted by the Army?s progressive pharmacy practice, which he felt provided autonomy and allowed him to use all his skills. ?Civilian pharmacists at TAMC are fully privileged members of the medical staff, analogous to a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Once the physician gives the diagnosis, the pharmacist can take over patient care, order labs?working totally independently.? This approach to pharmacy is somewhat unique to TAMC, as a large medical facility.

LTC Octavio Mont, PharmD, says, ?Army pharmacy is a viable option for any pharmacist out there.? But Mont avoids the term recruiting, as TAMC is not looking for soldiers but rather pharmacy residents. ?We are not here to recruit soldiers. We want the best residents possible, and we will give them the best learning experience possible. We think that they will be impressed with our level of expertise.? Mont notes, ?There is that misconception that if you do your residency in the Army, that we are going to hand you a gun?and that is just not true.?

While one of the biggest attractions to practicing pharmacy within the Department of Defense is the absence of insurance woes, White and his colleagues all agree that the greatest aspect of the job is knowing they are contributing to something important.

?The Army fights wars. Army pharmacists exist to support fighting wars, which is why they maintain uniformed officers. They go to Iraq and Afghanistan to directly support the war. You give to the nation in a time of need,? says White.

?I am a soldier first. I love being a soldier,? adds Mont. ?Ultimately, our mission is taking care of troops in the field.?

Mont served in Iraq at the beginning of the war. ?That was when we became one team, one family. We set up shop in something like a 2-sided trailer. Next to us was the lab and x-ray, and 20 meters away was the [emergency room]. We were all co-located and operating under harsh environments?shrapnel, heat exposure?but we did whatever we could.?

?We are very passionate about what we do,? says White. ?There is a teamwork spirit within military medicine that facilitates pharmacy practice. The lack of ego?sets the stage for collaboration, which sets the stage for people getting better health care. You are here for a bigger cause?keep people healthy so they can defend our country. Keep their babies and wives healthy. That promotes a spirit of teamwork.?

For more information on TAMC?s pharmacy residency program, visit

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