Military medicine

Squadron Leader Michael Whitney MPS, an avid traveller on and off duty, tells AP about his career path in the Defence Force.

Why choose pharmacy?

I’ve always been interested in helping people and performed well in science and maths subjects at school. When the time came to participate in Year 10 work experience, my sister – a nurse – suggested pharmacy. After a week-long stint in my local community pharmacy, which morphed into an after-school job, I was hooked. The rest is history!

What led you to the military?

Without any background in Defence, I only became aware you could join the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as a pharmacist during a careers session while a first-year university student.

It sounded like a niche, but interesting, area of pharmacy. I ended up applying a year or so into my studies after thinking I’d like to try a career path that differs from the usual hospital or community pharmacy options. Defence sponsors university students throughout their study and internship years, so it was a great fit.

Tell us about your career as a military pharmacist?

Air Force pharmacists are employed as both logisticians and clinicians. The role comprises health logistics, planning and administration along with more traditional elements of community (and sometimes hospital) pharmacy practice.

I’ve been lucky enough to work in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings across Australia and overseas. Some career highlights include deploying to the Middle East Region in 2019 to run the pharmacy at our main operating base, and secondment to the National Vaccine Taskforce at the Department of Health during the COVID-19 pandemic. I served as a logistics liaison officer for ADF and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cohorts.

My current role is Senior Pharmacist and Health Logistics Flight Commander of No. 1 Expeditionary Health Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley – just outside Brisbane. Our unit is responsible for support to expeditionary health tasks through deployment of the Air Force Role 2 Medical Treatment Facility.    

Why is the military a good career path for pharmacists?

I’d encourage other pharmacists to join the ADF if they’re up for an adventure, challenge and are interested in seeing a different side of the profession.

What the job sometimes lacks in traditional dispensing and medication management, can be made up for in leadership and an opportunity to serve the nation in new and exciting ways as a Defence Health practitioner. It really is a pharmacist job you can’t do anywhere else, and every day can be completely different.

Was your catch-up with colleagues at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Brisbane last year valuable?

While the Defence pharmacy community is strong, it is quite small and geographically displaced. Opportunities like the FIP Congress are great, as they allow for networking and professional development that can’t take place in isolation.

ADF pharmacists are involved in FIP’s Military and Emergency Pharmacy Section (MEPS), so the conference in September 2023 was an excellent opportunity to network and learn with other military pharmacists from around the globe.

Thoughts on the future of pharmacy in the Defence Force?

Defence Health is currently undertaking the largest health assets and systems upgrade in our history. The pharmacist’s role, particularly in regards to health material management of the new equipment, is a big undertaking and an exciting challenge.

Clinical-wise, it will be interesting to see how new scope of practice opportunities for pharmacists in the civilian sector can be adapted to suit military pharmacists.

A Day in the life of Michael Whitney, Military Pharmacist, RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland

7.00 am

Training time

Unit Physical Training Session (PT) at Base Gym, a group-orientated fitness session comprising a mixture of cardiovascular and strength exercises.


Clinical care

Assisting Amberley Defence Health Facility (Garrison), which is like a big GP clinic, with clinical pharmacy duties. This includes management of pharmaceutical accounts and dispensing medicines such as longer term prescription repeats for management of chronic health conditions and over-the-counter products for acute colds, headaches, aches and pains etc. Also use this time for management and clinical governance of expeditionary health kits.


Lunch break

Pause for lunch at Mess (dining facility), which also provides an opportunity to network with other base personnel. Food is always great and prepared by in-house Air Force chefs! I love their curries.


End-of-day planning

Command briefing on the next series of upcoming expeditionary health tasks and priorities, which can include requests for health support in a wide variety of locations both within Australia and overseas. Respond to a Short Notice to Move task involving the provision of pharmaceuticals and/or health material (medical equipment).


Wind down

Like a true pharmacist I’ve been re-watching Ozark on Netflix, about a financial planner who turns money launderer for a drug cartel. Otherwise, I support the current sporting series – most recently celebrating Brisbane
Heat winning the Big Bash League cricket competition!