I’m Captain Andrew Armstrong from Listowel, Ontario. I’m a Pharmacy Officer serving at the Central Medical Equipment Depot at CFB Petawawa.
And I’m Lieutenant Navy Warren Prokopiw from Edmonton, Alberta, a Pharmacy Officer currently working at CFB Comox.
PROKOPIW: Pharmacy Officers in the Canadian Forces are leading members of the military healthcare team with responsibilities that are far more varied and challenging than simply dispensing prescriptions at a community drug store.
ARMSTRONG: We serve as dispensing pharmacists on bases in Canada, manage the distribution of medicines and clinical equipment from our storage depots and deploy with our troops overseas, making sure that the doctors, nurses and technicians who care for them have everything that they need.
PROKOPIW: I just got back from Afghanistan. There are people over there who are putting their lives on the line.
The position that I had overseas was actually a Section Head with the multi-national medical unit at the Kandahar Airfield. While I was there, I was making sure that the lab, the x-ray, the pharmacy, as well as all the medical logistic requirements were being met, so that facility really had everything it needed to operate properly.
PROKOPIW: Going on deployment requires intensive training in emergency and trauma medicine, pain management and the infectious diseases that are unique to each deployment.
ARMSTRONG: Pharmacy Officers receive clinical training that exceeds what most civilian pharmacists would receive. That means going on rounds with physicians, being in the ICU every morning, making care decisions for inpatients and also being tasked as the officer in charge of the blood bank, the radiology unit and the pharmacy.
We also have other opportunities working with the Disaster Assistance Response Team or the DART. We also have pharmacists working in Ottawa in medical policy and plans, coming up with medical plans for support to deployed operations. There’s a lot of different roles beyond just the dispensing pharmacy role.
PROKOPIW: What I really enjoy about being a pharmacist in the Canadian Forces is the options of different type of employment that you can have and how quickly you can actually transition from one to the other.
Working in a community pharmacy, you might see the same medications every day. You have the same problems with similar patient. I could see that getting very routine after a while, but in the Forces, you keep moving, keep changing, keep being challenged.
ARMSTRONG: I had the opportunity to travel to Budapest to get my certificate in travel health with the International Society of Tropical Medicine. Things like that, that competitors and maybe retail drug chains – they just can’t match.
There’s other things as well as being part of the military, things like going on adventure training, the whole camaraderie, esprit de corps, having a team that you’re working with all the time. And then really feeling like you’re making a difference when you get to participate in some of these activities like deployments and things like that.
ARMSTRONG: After your basic officer training, you’ll be commissioned as a captain or Navy Lieutenant and begin on-the-job training at specialized courses on military medical practice and doctrine.
The military has a program set up for pharmacists called the Preceptive Pharmacist Program which is a clinical residency for new pharmacists, that when we graduate from school and we’ve completed our licensing requirements to become a pharmacist, we then are placed into a civilian hospital, so we’ll go on for about a 6-or-7 month period and do rotations in things such as infectious disease, general internal medicine, critical care, psychiatry. Other rotations like that, that are particular to the intricacies of health-care delivery in the military.
You will complete the majority of courses in your first few years after enrolment. These courses will be a combination of online learning and in-house training in Borden. You will also have the opportunity to complete more specialized training throughout your career.
PROKOPIW: When a pharmacist first gets their license, they’re normally posted to a medical clinic, that’s normally quite a large one, where they’ll be working with another pharmacist who can serve like a bit of their mentor and kind of bring them along as they start off their initial steps in their military career. They’ll then have the opportunity to be posted to a smaller clinic where they’d be on their own, where they’d have the ability to certainly grow and establish themselves within their own skillset within the Forces.
ARMSTRONG: The unit that I’m working at now is CMED which is the Central Medical Equipment Depot. It’s essentially a depot and a warehouse for medical supplies. Our main priority is providing medical support to deployed operations, both domestic and abroad. Having a background in the medical field is important because we’re dealing with medical supplies – drugs, biologicals, vaccines, that have very unique characteristics.
PROKOPIW: As you’ve had more time in the Canadian Forces, you could find yourself dealing with drug utilization reviews, evaluating the way that medications are actually being employed throughout the entire Canadian Forces.
ARMSTRONG: There really is a lot of opportunities within the military. It opens up so many doors, more than I ever even thought was possible and I’ve done so many very unique things and very cool things with the military that I don’t think I would have done anywhere else. I deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan to the role 3 multi-national medical unit and I worked as the clinical pharmacist there. It was a really rewarding opportunity to be able to go overseas and work in that capacity. It was very challenging clinically, it was very challenging professionally and you really feel like you’re making a difference.
PROKOPIW: When you’re involved with operations, you have the ability to support and effect people who are in life and death situations. Being able to be part of that organization that makes sure that they get the ultimate medical care is very, very satisfying and gratifying.