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Deployments and Pharmacy Training Develop Proficiency, Dexterity for Medical Officer
Story by MAJ Jeffrey Gruidl on 09/25/2019
Maj. Nicole Ouimette, Chief of Logistics, Task Force Medical, 3D Medical Command (Deployment Support) (FWD) TAC, always knew she wanted to do something in the medical field. “My mother is a nurse and she had a huge influence on me wanting to pursue a medical career. She used to take me with her to teach CPR in the community and I was so intrigued, just the thought of being able to help someone in an emergency was so noble to me”, said Maj. Nicole Ouimette.
During her undergrad at Texas Christian University, Ouimette explored different medical career fields and took a job working in an emergency room as a scribe. “I worked for a group of ER physicians at a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas and this was my first exposure to clinical pharmacy. I vividly remember a stroke patient coming in and the team working with the pharmacist to dose TPA (tissue plasminogen activator). At the time it blew my mind that a pharmacist was involved in the emergency room because I had only ever seen pharmacists in retail settings,” said Ouimette.
During undergrad Ouimette was also a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, “I remember one time as a freshman, we were learning how to low crawl across this grass field and remember thinking, what did I get myself into, but I looked to my right and my battle buddy nodded at me and said let’s do this. That sense of camaraderie, I learned quickly, would be powerful enough to help me push through anything. I have had the best teammates to push through any obstacle,” said Ouimette.
“After ROTC, I still had dreams of being in the medical field, but I had a calling to pursue my military career rather than continuing my education immediately following my bachelor’s degree. Many of my friends and peers had served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and I wanted to do the same,” said Ouimette.
After graduation, Ouimette commissioned as second lieutenant, Medical Service Corps in the Army Reserve and two-years after graduation deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“I was a medical logistics company commander and it was my first command position filled with much responsibility. I definitely had some quick growing up to do, but it was my second eye opener into the field of pharmacy,” said Ouimette.
In the Army, medical logistics involves all aspects of medical supplies, including medication. During deployment, Ouimette interacted with pharmacist on a daily basis saying about one, “He really opened my eyes to the wide range of possibilities in pharmacy. He had worked as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital and during the deployment he served as the pharmacist for a massive medical warehouse that distributed medication all over the Middle East. Looking back, I am still in awe at the amount of responsibility and complexities involved with the position and that mission.”
Once returning home Ouimette knew she was going to become a pharmacist saying, “Blood and guts was not my cup of tea so I ruled out some of the other medical fields. My follow-on mission for myself was to complete the prerequisites, apply, and complete pharmacy school.”
During her second year of pharmacy school at South University in Columbia, S.C., Ouimette deployed once again, to Afghanistan, working at a hospital. She was excited for the mission, but knew it would be a challenge to put pharmacy school on hold. “South University was very supportive of me, and allowed me to be able to return and pick up where I left off. During my second deployment, I once again interacted regularly with the pharmacy teams in country. It really solidified that I had chosen the right career,” she said.
After deployment, Ouimette went back to complete her last year of pharmacy school, but still unsure on her future. “Having not taken the most traditional route, I wasn’t very familiar with residencies nor the value that they could bring to my career. I knew I wanted to continue serving my community on the civilian side and the VA healthcare system was perfect for me,” she said.
Ouimette was matched to the West Palm Beach, Fla., VA. “Being able to work with Veterans that had served before me was very rewarding. At West Palm, I had 3 co-residents and just as I had experienced time and time again in the Army, that sense of camaraderie I found in my co-residents as well.”
One experience sticks out in Ouimette’s mind on relating to VA patients, saying, “The residency not only built my clinical knowledge base, but it also gave me tools to be more successful in my military career field. During residency I remember talking to a patient about his medications and at the end of the appointment I asked him if he was good to go and he said hooah. I smiled back at him and said hooah in return”
Towards the very end of her residency, Ouimette had an opportunity to deploy again where she is currently serving in Afghanistan on her 3rd deployment as a medical logistics officer. “I work on a medical staff that is responsible for most of the conventional medical forces spread across Afghanistan. Every deployment is different. My first two deployments I had no clinical pharmacy experience, but this one is very different. I can now communicate more effectively with the providers here,” she said.
During her deployment, Ouimette was asked to speak via VTC at the National VA Pharmacy Leaders Training Conference on her residency, Sept. 19. She states, “It was such an honor to be able to speak to some key leaders in pharmacy.”
Next year, Ouimette will return to the U.S. with the goal to work for the VA system in the Southwest and continue to serve Veterans. “Helping fellow Veterans, being able to communicate with veterans and have some common ground is very fulfilling to me.”