By: Melissa Roy Co-Copy Editor [Graphics focused]
Many people do not realize the opportunities that are available to pharmacists. Joanne Bollhofer-White has taken the path less traveled by entering into the Air Force. Her position in the military has allowed her to travel all over the country while serving her country. The Air Force has afforded her the opportunity to work in diverse and unique pharmacy settings. Her military service has helped her to further her degree. Currently, Joanne Bollhofer-White, BSPharm, MS, MBA, PharmD is a pharmacist at the University of Maryland/Charles Regional Medical Center in LaPlata Maryland. Her duties as a pharmacist include: Medication Safety Monitoring, Clinical Pharmacy Analyst, and Controlled Substance Medication Analyst.
She is a St. John’s University alumna and was active in the Air Force for 20 years. Her experiences display how far and wide a degree can take you, if you are willing to take a chance.
What college/ university did you attend? How was one unique way that your school helped you pursue your current career path?
St John’s University; College of Pharmacy and Allied Professions (BS Pharm 1985/ MS (Industrial Pharmacy) 1989. The student population at St. John’s was very diverse (especially during my graduate studies) and it helped me relate to multiple cultures (both as colleagues and patients).
In your opinion, what course was the most beneficial towards your career and why?
For me it was Clinical Therapeutics. This class displayed the patient as a whole, rather than just organ systems. In my present job, I provide clinical pharmacy services and having this background has been very valuable.
Why did you decide to pursue an unconventional career path, if you could go back and start over again would you pick a different path?
I had finished my master’s degree, and for a variety of reasons, I decided not to pursue my doctorate. While working at a small community pharmacy, I received a letter informing me of opportunities in the Air Force, including educational opportunities. Over the course of the next year, I worked with an Air Force recruiter (a former pharmacy technician) and took the oath of office in Feb 1991.
From 1991 to 1995 I was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base (AFB), NJ. The hospital at Ft Dix was closing and the Air Force moved the small clinic to the hospital without impacting patient care. We also brought on a new computer system and I was responsible for building the medication data base.
In 1996 I was reassigned to Reese AFB, TX, until 1997. The base was in the process of closing (due to the Base Realignment and Closure committee recommendations). I was responsible for scaling back the pharmacy and readying patients to transition to civilian care.
After I went to Eglin AFB, FL, until 2000. I was responsible for the inpatient pharmacy, to include chemotherapy. I had not worked inpatient much up till then, so I had to do a lot of OJT. I also brought a reverse distributor online, so we could recoup some of the money spent on expired products and expand our formulary.
Next I was stationed at Kirtland AFB, NM. Here I oversaw both main and satellite pharmacy locations. During this time, the pharmacy was redesigned and two automated dispensing machines (PharAssist & ScriptPro) were installed. The medical group also went through two Joint Commission inspections & passed both.
In 2009 I was transferred to Bolling AFB, DC. As the senior officer, I was placed in charge of Diagnostic Imaging and Clinical Laboratory services. I also oversaw the pharmacy at a clinic at the Pentagon, providing care for many high ranking Air Force officers. I also worked with the DC Department of Health to ensure access to the Strategic National Stockpile.
Then in 2011 I went to Andrews AFB, Md. During my first year, I was responsible for overseeing the refill pharmacy. We dispensed over 600 prescriptions daily. The second, and last year of my military service, I was at the main pharmacy as Assistant Department Chair. I worked on updating the Pharmacy & Therapeutics function meeting as well acting as the Medication Safety Officer.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the military. It gave me the opportunity to see parts of the country I had not ever thought I would see. I was able to get involved in the administration of a pharmacy from the outset, something that would have taken many more years in the civilian world. I was able to obtain two additional graduate degrees (MBA and PharmD) using my GI Bill. This is something that would have been difficult if I would have had to pay for on my own.
Prior to getting the information about the opportunities offered by the Air Force did you ever entertain or even know about such job opportunities?
To tell you the truth, I had NEVER considered the military as a career (and didn’t even know about it as an option for pharmacists). But the opportunity to go back to school & not have to pay for it was enticing.
What is the best aspect of your current job?
Impacting patient care. We perform anticoagulant teaching & helping a patient understand the importance of taking this medication properly is critical so they do not experience another blood clot or unexpected bleed.
During my time in the military, I was able to impact formulary decisions. This directly affected the patients I saw on a daily basis—to make sure we had the best options available, within the budget I was provided.
What is the worst aspect of your current job?
The constantly changing schedule. I would be scheduled to work in the morning one day and then to work in the evening on the next day. While I was in the military, it was unpleasant moving every few years. I enjoyed learning about new parts of the country—but packing/unpacking, finding a new vet, etc is a challenge.
Did you have a mentor? How did they help your career? If not, what is your opinion of mentors?
No. Unfortunately, my first assignment was at a small clinic where I was the only pharmacist (and my supervisor was a physician). I think a mentor would have been a great help. He/she could provide immediate feedback on performance and help to grow skills useful in the current job and for future.
Of all the places you have been stationed which was your favorite, and why?
My favorite assignment was at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico. There was so much to do—skiing in the winter, white water rafting in the summer. Also, there were a number of cultural activities (plays, a community orchestra) as well as a Triple A baseball team (the Isotopes). Finally, there were large Hispanic and Native American communities—so I learned a good amount about them.
What is one piece of advice you would provide future pharmacists as they begin to look at various career options?
Don’t be afraid to think outside your comfort zone. I had never considered the military as a career, but making that choice allowed me to do many things I could not have done anywhere else.
The Rho Chi Post wants to thank Joanne Bollhofer-White for sharing her time and expertise with us. We hope that this interview highlights potential career paths for our future pharmacists!
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