Veteran pursues PharmD to help rural communities

First-year student pharmacist Michael Sauseda, age 40, is one of five students in the inaugural class in the rural health track. The track is part of the college’s Rural Health Initiative to recruit, educate, and embed pharmacists in rural communities across Washington state.

I applied for the rural health track because I want to help underserved communities, which has been a consistent driving motivation throughout my life. Our motto as a US Special Forces Operator was De Oppresso Liber which translates to, “To Free the Oppressed.” In my 20-plus year military career, I spent 11 years as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant stationed in several Asian countries abroad, as well as serving several active-duty tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines.

Michael Sauseda in 2010 prior to scrubbing in for a cyst removal on a patient in Afghanistan. This was Sauseda’s clinic where he was the lead for this minor surgery.

During my time in Afghanistan, the military started using special operations in a new concept called Village Stability Operations (VSO). This is one example of how our clinical and austere medical expertise was vital in winning the support of the local populace and the overall impact it made on the community’s well-being with the help of partners on the ground. Constant contact and helping others improved community relationships and regional stability and what I hope to bring to improve rural health.

As a Special Forces Medical Sergeant, my main tasks included attending to minor injuries, administering anesthesia, gas and IV drips, while also being able to perform full amputations. Basically, we were the paramedics when things went wrong, whether we were in combat, or simply building relations with various communities. I also had to be well-versed in obstetrics and gynecology and normal family practice medicine as these became crucial skills to have in gaining trust of the communities we were trying to help.

When getting acquainted and established in a foreign community, the first thing that was in high demand was mouth hygiene and care. People in the community would come to us for help with tooth removal, filling cavities, and everything in between. Along with training in dentistry we would also be trained in managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. While on rotation, I even delivered two babies.

Though many of my peers doing the same role in the military went on to pursue their MDs (doctor of medicine), I chose to pursue a PharmD (doctor of pharmacy). I have had the misfortune of being in multiple IED (improvised explosive device) attacks leading to TBIs (traumatic brain injuries), over the course of multiple combat rotations. Suffering from this head trauma led to a cascade of events which resulted in the overall decline of my health over eight years. At my lowest point, I was on 18 medications and had the good fortune to work with a highly competent clinical pharmacist who changed my life, helping me to reduce my medication to now three prescriptions. It was then that I realized how impactful and important a pharmacist can be in determining the health outcomes of their patients.

Though I have spent most of my life working with communities abroad, I have also witnessed firsthand challenges in underserved and rural communities in our own country, which rival those in developing nations. Dr. Julie Akers’ lectures during my first semester in pharmacy school impressed two points on me: the first was the effort being made between the Indian Health Care System and the V.A. to expand the scope of practice of the pharmacist, and the second was the need for more rural health care accessibility. As part of my military training, I spent two months in Rosebud, South Dakota on the Sioux Indian Reservation, working in the E.R. I felt first-hand how vital and how lacking health care was to this community. It is through these past experiences that I feel that my background and motivation fit in line with the goals of the rural health care model.

I am a proud father of two daughters, ages 2 and 12. I want to be a great example to both of my daughters and show them that with hard work you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I strive to seek new challenges and accomplish my goals, while demonstrating that it is hard work and dedication, not luck nor nepotism, that gets you where you want.

As an “older” student, I don’t think age truly defines you. I try to think of life like a book and while the chapters tend to show where a person has come from, it does not necessarily define the outcome of your current chapter. We can capitalize on our previous accomplishments, but we need to have defined goals and challenges to help shape the path we want. I hate the idea of becoming stagnant, or bored with my life, confined with doing the same thing day in and day out. No two people’s stories will ever be the same. We all got to this exact moment in life in different ways and this is what makes a patient-provider relationship so unique. You never know what might connect you.