Balancing military service and pharmacy school

Colton Sorensen is one of many service men and women who pursued his doctor of pharmacy degree at Washington State University. Colton, who served in the United States Marine Corps, shares how his military training as a marine translates to becoming a better health care provider as a pharmacist. In 2020, Colton was asked to press pause on his third year in pharmacy school to deploy to Georgia, a country which shares a border with Russia, Azerbaijian, Armenia, and Turkey. The deployment ended up delaying his graduation by one year. Along with an active-duty tour to the countries of Georgia, Afghanistan, and Qatar, Colton also served in Lithuania for a 1-month training exercise. At the end of his 8-year military service, 26-year-old Colton held a rank of sergeant or grade of E-5. Colton graduated in May 2022 and will begin his residency at St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale, Washington.

Why did you want to pursue your PharmD?

I was looking to serve others as a health care professional and as a member of a health care team. I wanted to be involved in the decision-making process regarding patient care. I also knew that pharmacy provided a wide variety of career opportunities, and the work-life balance was very reasonable in comparison to a lot of other health care professions.

What did you do while serving and how did it change your perspective?

Throughout my career in the Marine Corps my main role was in supply and logistics. I had to undergo basic training and combat training in San Diego, California, as well as supply school training in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I spent a lot of time helping supply and prepare the ammunition for the artillery cannons, ensuring all marines were equipped with proper military gear, and assisting in ordering parts and equipment for our vehicles, artillery cannons, radio equipment, and armory. I would also help plan out ranges, funeral details, and events for our unit.

My time spent in the United States Marine Corps gave me a very solid foundation in small unit leadership, teamwork, communication, decision making, active listening, time management, and mission accomplishment.

Colton (left) works with his Georgian counterpart (right) while conducting field operations with the Georgian infantry. The photo was taken in the Caucus mountains during his third year in pharmacy school.

Do you have any advice for people in the military who may be considering pursuing their PharmD?

It is very doable to pursue a PharmD while serving in the military. The most important aspects for me included communication and time management. There were several instances where I had conflicts with drill weekends and exams, labs, presentations, simulations, and other assignments. The faculty and staff at WSU are very understanding and willing to help facilitate accommodations. I was very grateful for their willingness to help me when I got the call to be deployed in the middle of my third year.

What did you like most about your experience at WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences?

I enjoyed my fourth year APPE rotations the most. Rotations were where I found my passions and understood which aspects of pharmacy school I saw myself utilizing the most. During the first 3 years I really enjoyed the events put on by the clubs and organizations on campus. This allowed for me to make a lot of friends and get to know people in the classes above and below me.