In a salute to all our veterans, we share the story of Gloria Garner, ‘92
Gloria Garner’s career in pharmacy has taken her around the world. As a member of the Unites States Army and the United States Navy, Garner parlayed her degree in pharmacy into an opportunity to serve both her nation and her patients.
Garner was a member of the first class of graduates of the Pharm.D. program for the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy in 1992, but it was not an easy road to reach that goal. In fact, it was a path that took her to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
Garner joined the Army in 1984 and was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where she was twice named Soldier of the Year. She intended to attend the University of Illinois Chicago on a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship, but a medical condition disqualified her for the scholarship. She then had a conversation with UofSC College of Pharmacy Dean Julian Fincher.
“Dean Fincher said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you,’” she recalls.
Garner paid her way through college through a work/study position as a pharmacy technician at Fort Jackson’s Moncrief Hospital, combined with student loans and financial aid. She was in her fifth year of her studies and just a few rotations away from earning her bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, when the Army called her to active duty.
“In December 1990, I was pulled to active duty to support Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” Garner says. “I was sent to the neutral zone in Saudi Arabia.”
I brought two duffel bags with me filled with basic medications ... and that’s what we used to start the hospital pharmacy.
Garner helped lead the team responsible for setting up and running the pharmacy for the tent hospitals, overseeing a group of pharmacy technicians who helped build two pharmacies from the ground up.
“I brought two duffel bags with me filled with basic medications and over-the-counter-medicines and supplies sent by Moncrief,” she says, “and that’s what we used to start the hospital pharmacy.”
Garner was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service as well as the Phi Lambda Sigma Leadership Award.
The question remained as to how she would complete the requirements for her degree. Because of her experiences serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Garner’s rotation coordinator, Col. Thomas Brady determined that she earned credit for two of her required rotations. When she returned to the College of Pharmacy in May 1991, she took her board examinations and completed her remaining rotations, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy.
That same year the Pharm.D. program launched, and Garner continued her studies to earn her Doctor of Pharmacy in May 1992. She completed her PGY1 residency at Washington University, part of the Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. She completed her PGY2 residency in oncology at the University of Florida, Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Garner returned to St. Louis as an oncological pharmacist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 1994, where she oversaw the bone marrow transplant program. She remained in the military as a reservist but transitioned from the Army to the Navy.
Then the attacks happened on the World Trade Center, and the world was forever changed by the events of 9-11.
“I was called back to active duty with the Navy in January 2002,” Garner says, “and I served nine months at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Navy said they would call be back again, so I made the decision to return to active duty on a permanent basis.”
My preceptors kept up with my progress while I was serving ... The things I learned you could not measure on a grading scale.
During the next 15 years, Garner served as pharmacy director for Naval Hospitals in Beaufort, South Carolina, Yokosuka, Japan and Twentynine Palms, California. She also served as a pharmacist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center until her retirement in 2017, but she continued as an ambulatory pharmacist there until February 2020.
Today, Garner continues her work with cancer patients as an oncological pharmacist with Lifebridge Health in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Oncology pharmacy allows you to do so many things because you are taking care not only of the patient’s cancer but also any other disease state they may have – high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol,” she says. “And the patients themselves teach you how to survive with their fighting spirit. There is no other population like the oncology patients.”
Looking back on her education at the College of Pharmacy, Garner remembers being nurtured and supported by her professors.
“You could not ask for a better group of clinical pharmacists to have been trained by,” she says. “My preceptors kept up with my progress while I was serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The things I learned you could not measure on a grading scale.”
If anything, Garner has learned that she is far from done with her career as a pharmacist.
“When I look back over my life, I have had a good life,” she says, “and I am not finished yet.”
Topics: Veteran Alumni