Imagine you’re deployed with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), operating somewhere in a vast ocean, with no shore based medical centers around for hundreds of miles. You are carrying out your normal duties of the day. Suddenly your breathing becomes labored. You take a second to sit down and not before long there is a pain in your chest that begins to creep down your arm as unconsciousness starts to creep up to your head.
Before you know it you are laying in the main battle dressing station of the ship’s medical clinic. The senior medical officer, a medically qualified commander, is standing over you diagnosing your symptoms and calculating all possible solutions to alleviate them and get you back to health.
After a few minutes, you hear a request for someone to help him. There is nothing he can do until this person arrives. Would you be surprised if it was a second class petty officer that he was asking for?
“I am what you could consider the messenger,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Robert D. Viloria. “The doctors know how to treat symptoms by coming up with multiple options. I help them choose the best option based on what medicine we have in stock.”
A native of Milwaukee, Viloria is Nimitz’ sole pharmacy technician. This makes him one of the few people aboard that can make the call on what medications patients are treated with.
As the working stock custodian for the ship, Viloria is in charge of the ordering, controlling and dispensing of medications. He is the expert on what the ship has in stock and what it can be used for.
“At a hospital you have an actual pharmacist and multiple pharmacy technicians, here on the ship it is just me alone,” said Viloria. “I am designated by the commanding officer to dispense the working stock of medicine onboard. I run the pharmacy by myself.”
After completing Basic Hospital Corpsman ‘A’ School, Viloria was selected for follow on instruction. He spent six months following his four months of basic medical training in San Antonio obtaining the 8482 Navy Enlisted Classification which qualified him to dispense medication as a pharmacy technician.
The school covers a rundown of all the systems in the body and how certain medications affect and help those systems. Students learn from a range of topics from the skeletal system and what pain medication will help it, to what medications best treat eyes, ears, nose and mouth complications.
“We learn what certain drugs are, what they do and what they are best used for,” said Viloria.
At some point during their time on Nimitz, every Sailor will likely benefit from the training Viloria has received. From sick call worthy symptoms to surgeries at sea, medicine plays a large part in making and keeping Sailors healthy.
“My average day starts out with sick call,” said Viloria. “The providers will screen the patients and either see them and give them a prescription that I will later fill or they will send them straight to me for over-the-counter medicine.”
Over the counter medications include any medications that you can buy at a store. These are medications that Sailors can go straight to Viloria for. In those cases, he will write down their symptoms, ask them about their allergies and then administer a dose of medicine that will usually last them for 2-3 days.
“We don’t have a lot of room on the ship and it’s easy to run out of what you do manage to pack, especially on deployment,” said Personnel Specialist 3rd Class John Duya, from San Diego. “When it comes to the everyday medicine for headaches and the common cold it’s nice to know that someone on the ship can help provide us with that.”
Viloria spends a majority of his day making himself available to fill prescriptions. These come from the providers aboard that include the ship’s three flight surgeons, senior medical officer, family practitioner, surgeon, physician assistant and three independent duty corpsman.
Viloria provides all types of medications, ranging from blood pressure or cholesterol medication to Motrin and muscle relaxers.
Being the sole pharmacy technician on the ship means that if a Sailor is receiving any sort of medicine, regardless of the reason, he has had something to do with it.
“Sometimes I can even have intensive care unit patients and I have to make up the antibiotics doses that we give them,” said Viloria. “For some patients, I have to tend to them with IV bags that push the medicine that they need through to them.”
Viloria not only administers the stock, but is also responsible for ordering and ensuring the ship has the proper amount and type of medications it needs.
“I have to know which medications we need and which ones we are allowed to have,” said Viloria. “I do that using an Authorized Medical Allowance List, which is a list that dictates what drugs the ship can and cannot carry.”
Once Viloria knows what the ship is allowed to carry a certain medication, he is responsible for managing and ordering it.
Because the daily health of roughly 5,000 Sailors over a six-month period is not something that is easily anticipated, ordering the appropriate medications can be a stressful job.
“Sometimes our formulary only calls for two of something and so I follow that and it ends up getting used way quicker than anticipated,” said Viloria. “On deployment I have to make a lot of predictions and put in a big order based on how we have consumed certain medications in the past while also accounting for deployment situations.”
The ship can expect to receive a shipment of medications roughly every two months. Viloria must plan accordingly.
“I know what drugs we commonly use and which ones we go through the quickest,” said Viloria. “I note what medications we have that often come close to expiring and which ones we often have no stock of. That method gave me a little better idea of how to prepare for our current deployment.”
In preparation for deployment, Viloria also facilitated the use of the deployment prescription program (DPP).
DPP can save the ship a lot of money. It allowed Sailors with long term and consistent prescriptions to fill out and turn in paper work that provided them with a six-month supply of their medication to cover for the duration of their deployment.
“Essentially we use the DPP program to outsource that supply of medication to other Navy medicine entities,” said Viloria. “It frees up my ability to order and provide the ship with the medicine that we need to stay healthy and treat the unexpected conditions that they don’t already have prescriptions for.”
Without Viloria and his six months of training, there would be a lack of expertise on the stocking, handling and administering of the medications that are vital to keeping Nimitz’ Sailors healthy. There would likely be a noticeable effect to the crew if there was not someone who knew about the proper and safe administration of the right type and even mixture of medications to provide Sailors.
Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce.
Story by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Holly L. Herline