Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

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
May 8, 2015

Mustard Disaster at Bari

.PDF | 107.26 KB

Bari lies along the Adriatic Sea at the top of the heel of the boot of Italy (See Figure 1). During World War II, the port of Bari was under the jurisdiction of the British and was the main supply base for General Montgomery’s Eighth Army as well as the headquarters for the American Fifteenth Air Force which was activated in November 1943.

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 11 - November 2015

.PDF | 1.37 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Rates of acute respiratory illnesses of infectious and allergic etiologies after permanent changes of duty assignments, active component, U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, January 2005–September 2015; ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 10 - October 2015

.PDF | 1.01 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Chikungunya infection in DoD healthcare beneficiaries following the 2013 introduction of the virus into the Western Hemisphere, 1 January 2014 to 28 February 2015; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 12 - December 2015

.PDF | 862.38 KB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Follow-up analysis of the incidence of acute respiratory infections among enlisted service members during their first year of military service before and after the 2011 resumption of adenovirus vaccination of ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 9 - September 2015

.PDF | 2.17 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Assessment of ICD-9-based case definitions for influenza-like illness surveillance; Incidence of syphilis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 1 January 2010 through 31 August 2015; Brief report: Rate of ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 1 - January 2015

.PDF | 985.25 KB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2014; Influenza A(H3N2) outbreak at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, 2014; Incidence of Salmonella infections among service members of the active and reserve components ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 8 - August 2015

.PDF | 542.02 KB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Routine screening for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus, civilian applicants for U.S. military service and U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, January 2010-June 2015; Durations of ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 5 - May 2015

.PDF | 481.95 KB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Incidence of joint replacement among active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2004-2014; Case series: Chikungunya and dengue at a forward operating location; Tdap vaccination coverage during ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 6 - June 2015

.PDF | 739.84 KB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Accidental drownings, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005-2014; Risk of mental health disorders following an initial diagnosis of postpartum depression, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 1998 ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 2 - February 2015

.PDF | 2.04 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Whither the "signature wounds of the war" after the war: estimates of incidence rates and proportions of TBI and PTSD diagnoses attributable to background risk, enhanced ascertainment, and active war zone ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 7 - July 2015

.PDF | 1.21 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Epidemiology, microbiology, and antibiotic susceptibility patterns of skin and soft tissue infections, Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, 2012-2014; Post-deployment screening and referral for risky ...

Report
Jan 1, 2015

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 3 - March 2015

.PDF | 2.12 MB

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Characterizing the relationship between tick bites and Lyme disease in active component U.S. Armed Forces in the eastern United States; Incidence and prevalence of diagnoses of eye disorders of refraction and ...

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
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