Skip to main content

Military Health System

Important Notice about Pharmacy Operations

Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impact on MHS Pharmacy Operations. Read the statement to learn more. 

Military Pharmacists Face Unique Challenges While Deployed

Image of Military pharmacist counting pills. U.S. Air Force Capt. Candace Parker, 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group pharmacist, pours pills into a pill counting machine July 17, 2021, in an undisclosed location somewhere in Southwest Asia. Deployed pharmacists often have to work in areas where supplies may not be readily available. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cameron Otte)

Tasked with having to know about hundreds of types of drugs and their interactions, equipment, and much more, pharmacists are vital in keeping warfighters healthy and ensuring that the U.S. military maintains a medically ready force.

For deployed pharmacists, they face unique challenges, as they don’t work in a traditional brick and mortar setting. Rather, deployed pharmacists can be on a ship in the middle of the ocean, or in a makeshift building in the Middle East or Africa. The deployed pharmacy workforce may have to take care of warfighters in abnormal situations or locations.

A deployed pharmacist is, “a pharmacist forward, in a hostile environment, supporting a broad range of contingency operations in support of our nation’s objectives,” said U.S. Army Maj. Lance R. Murphy, chief of ambulatory care pharmacy services at Tripler Army Medical Center, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Typically, it’s the pharmacist’s job to screen, package, and distribute medication to patients, ensuring they are prescribed the correct dosage to treat their ailment. Yet while on deployment, it can be much more than that.

“A deployed pharmacist is the primary drug/medication expert for the management, storage, and acquisition of pharmaceuticals. Many times, you are the only pharmacist within your area of operation and will expected to be always available,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Norman Tuala, deputy chief of the department of pharmacy at Tripler Army Medical Center.

Tuala went on to explain that there are four positions for a deployed pharmacist: field hospital pharmacist, division pharmacist, medical logistics pharmacist, and theater pharmacy consultant.

He said, “You need to be proficient as an outpatient and inpatient pharmacist; however, you’ll need to be more familiar with logistics such as different ordering platforms, forward logistic elements.”

Challenges as a Deployed Pharmacist

Logistics and supply management can be one of the biggest challenges a deployed pharmacist may face, Tuala explained. “My biggest concerns were supply availability, controlled substance accountability, and management of refrigerated items. I didn’t always have what I needed, but I was able to pursue available logistics contacts to request what I needed. You cannot operate as you do while you are back in garrison and expect most pharmaceutical orders to arrive next day.”

Yet the conditions are manageable if the pharmacist plans ahead.

He also mentioned, “manpower, logistics, formulary changes, and varying missions,” as some of the biggest challenges while on deployment.

He recalled a time when he was deployed where logistics played a key factor.

“There was an outbreak of a gastro-intestinal parasite in Kuwait. I was responsible for ordering the medications to treat the infection and side effects. I was able to verify treatment and get the medications, as well as prevention medication, shipped out within two hours and delivered on site within 24 hours,” said Murphy.

Personal Experiences on Deployment

When deployed, everyone has a different experience, or way, that they prepare.

"Most of the preparation is mental. When preparing for a traditional deployment, brushing up on sterile compounding and critical care are top priority. For my job, it was more ‘on the job’ training and learning the logistics side of pharmacy and medicine," said Murphy. “I managed the U.S. Central Command formulary, ordered and shipped out all of the medications for the theater, developed and updated policies and procedures for the area of responsibility, and served as a clinical subject matter expert.”

Sometimes when deployed, a pharmacist might come across certain medications that they might not stock in a typical pharmacy.

“This will depend on the environment, but when I was in Afghanistan, we had snake antivenom, which was something I normally had not stocked within my pharmacy,” said Tuala. Murphy also mentioned that he was once responsible for procuring antivenoms to treat snake and scorpion bites, which was unique for him.

While serving on a deployed mission, you must prepare and plan for certain situation that you normally would, like “mass casualty, enemy fire, disrupted logistics channels and evacuations,” said Murphy. “My largest concern was making sure units had enough medications and had all their requirements in a timely manner. The last thing I wanted was for a unit to realize they were short on a medication/treatment while they were handling a mass casualty or under fire.”

A good understanding of not only one’s capabilities, but also those of the pharmacy and staff is important for a successful deployment, Tuala said, “Having a good understanding of your capabilities and the medical support expectations and mission will assist with your strategy to bridge the gap.”

You also may be interested in...

Report
Jun 1, 2023

MSMR Vol. 30 No. 6 - June 2023

.PDF | 1.55 MB

This annual issue quantifies the impacts of various illnesses and injuries in 2022 among members of the active component of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as the U.S. Coast Guard; health care burden metrics include the total number of medical encounters, including hospitalizations and ambulatory services, as well as numbers and types of individuals ...

Report
Feb 1, 2023

MSMR Vol. 30 No. 2 - February 2023

.PDF | 965.54 KB

This issue of the peer-reviewed monthly journal published by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division (AFHSD) features the articles: Changing of the Guard: MSMR’s Second Editor-in-Chief Retires; Brief Report: Hospitalizations Among Active Duty Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Fiscal Year 2021; Historical Perspective: The Critical Role of Disease ...

Report
Jan 1, 2023

MSMR Vol. 30 No. 1 - January 2023

.PDF | 1.22 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Incidence and management of chronic insomnia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012 to 2021; Changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity and in the incidence of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes ...

Report
Dec 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 12 - December 2022

.PDF | 2.22 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the ...

Report
Nov 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 11 - November 2022

.PDF | 1.30 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the ...

Report
Oct 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 10 - October 2022

.PDF | 1.41 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the ...

Report
Sep 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 09 - September 2022

.PDF | 2.12 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the ...

Report
Jul 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 07 - July 2022

.PDF | 1.67 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the ...

Report
Jun 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 06 - June 2022

.PDF | 3.07 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Ambulatory ...

Report
May 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 05 - May 2022

.PDF | 1.25 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Sexually transmitted infections, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2013–2021; Evaluation of ICD-10-CM-based case definitions of ambulatory encounters for COVID-19 among Department of Defense health ...

Report
Apr 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 04 - April 2022

.PDF | 1.51 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Exertional heat illness at Fort Benning, GA: Unique insights from the Army Heat Center; Update: Heat illness, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Update: Exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U ...

Report
Mar 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 03 - March 2022

.PDF | 1.52 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Obesity prevalence among active component service members prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, January 2018–July 2021; Brief report: Refractive surgery trends ...

Report
Feb 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 02 - February 2022

.PDF | 1.10 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Diagnosis of hepatitis C infection and cascade of care in the active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; A new approach to categorization of ocular injury among U.S. Armed Forces; Surveillance snapshot: ...

Report
Jan 1, 2022

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 01 - January 2022

.PDF | 1.23 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Description of a COVID-19 Beta variant outbreak, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, February–March 2021; COVID-19 and depressive symptoms among active component U.S. service members, January 2019–July 2021; ...

Report
Dec 1, 2021

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 012 - December 2021

.PDF | 1.62 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Osteoarthritis and spondylosis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Incident COVID-19 infections, active and reserve components, 1 January 2020–31 August 2021; Surveillance snapshot: ...

Last Updated: July 11, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery