Improving soldiers’ health from the front line

Army pharmacists must always be prepared for the unexpected. Pharmacist Robert Liddington, who holds the rank of lieutenant colonel, explains why and how he embarked on a career with the Ministry of Defence.

Robert Liddington

How were your early years of practice?

I graduated from the University of Portsmouth in 1995 and undertook my preregistration year with Boots in Yeovil, Somerset. Once qualified, I moved home to South Wales and carried on working for Boots as a relief pharmacist. I enjoyed the patient contact and especially establishing a rapport with the regular patients. I learnt that community pharmacists are in a privileged position to support and advise patients, helping to improve patient safety and medicines adherence.

What is your current role, and how did you get there?

After just over 16 years of service, I am currently the senior pharmacist for the Ministry Of Defence (MOD) working for the Surgeon General. I always had an interest in joining the army — I wanted to be part of the history, traditions and camaraderie. I also wanted action, adventure and a professional challenge that is probably not found anywhere else.

During my preregistration year, while I was in the process of applying to join the army, I discovered that Royal Army Medical Corps was recruiting pharmacists so I decided to retain my clinical expertise.

Once I passed the selection process, I started my military training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1998. Initial training only lasts for three months and, although it was challenging at the time, I look back on it as one of my favourite experiences.

A second phase of training was delivered at Keogh Barracks near Aldershot, Hampshire, where that basic training was further developed for employment in the Defence Medical Services. This prepared me for my first role, when I was in charge of distributing medical material around the UK and overseas.

Which aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

The army pharmacist has to be a generalist and opportunities to specialise are rare. This can be frustrating for some people but the diversity is what I enjoy most. Army pharmacists must have a comprehensive understanding of primary and secondary healthcare, medical logistics, law, travel medicine and public health, and apply it to the military environment. This sounds daunting but the army provides the necessary training and experience to deal with the unexpected.

“Setting up a tented field hospital with comprehensive pharmacy support from scratch is a highlight for me.”

Everything we do is to improve the health of the soldier, either as a primary care patient or as a casualty during a military operation. This is the most rewarding part of my work, and setting up a tented field hospital with comprehensive pharmacy support from scratch is a highlight for me. My proudest moment was receiving the Royal Pharmaceutical Society National Recognition Award for our work on operations, on behalf of all military pharmacists (
The Pharmaceutical Journal 2013;291:279

My aim is to continue to drive the medicines management agenda forward and in the future, as a commander, see the improvements delivered during military operations first-hand. Additionally, I want to improve how we provide advice to prescribers and how we analyse prescribing.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

My current role gives me a strategic view of the MOD, but there are obvious challenges bringing the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force together to deliver a joint medical service. As head of the pharmacy profession in the MOD, I need to engage with national external agencies (for example, the General Pharmaceutical Council, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Department of Health) and international organisations (for example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO]) to make sure we adhere to the law. Additionally, I help them understand how we operate both at home and overseas, explaining why some things need to be done differently. For example, every soldier is permitted and trained to carry and self-administer morphine on the battlefield.

What tips would you offer someone hoping to pursue a career as an MOD pharmacist?

The army is the only military service that employs uniformed pharmacists. My advice is to get as much experience and exposure to the military as possible, by joining the reserves or by requesting short placements with army pharmacists. Joining the reserves provides opportunities for individuals to learn more about the military and to take part in the wider activities, such as sport, adventure training and military skills. The reserves are also a useful option for those who do not want to commit to the regular army.

We recruit from all sectors of pharmacy practice but the main roles are based in hospital and primary care so experience in these areas is preferred. Army life is full of variety and we tend to change jobs and location every two to three years.

Potential officers aged 34 years and younger can apply, but they will only be eligible to join once they have registered with the GPhC. More information can be found on the army careers website at

Defence Medical Statistics

Source: Robert Liddington


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 27 September 2014, Vol 293, No 7829;293(7829):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066421

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