Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel
Alumni | 2/27/2024

Rising In Rank: Pharmacy Alum Building Multi-Faceted Navy Career

By Jennifer Persons

Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel, PharmD '16

Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel
Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel, PharmD '16

Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel leads the pharmacy department at a military medical center, where he brings together his passions for pharmacy, leadership, and service.

In early 2020, Lt. Cmdr. Chirag Patel was stationed at the Naval Hospital in Guam, a remote island in the Western Pacific Ocean. It was the closest port when a coronavirus outbreak forced the USS Theodore Roosevelt to evacuate and isolate approximately 5,000 service members on board.

“This gigantic floating city just came to a halt,” Dr. Patel remembered. “We were in uncharted territory. We didn’t have a vaccine. We barely knew how to test. Our job was to take care of them and return them to duty.”

Four years later, this is one of the most satisfying moments of Dr. Patel’s career, both as a pharmacist and a member of the Navy. Sharing this story, it was the first time he sat back and reflected on the COVID-19 outbreak that infected nearly 1,200 of the ship’s crew members.

“It makes me feel proud. I’m able to say that I am one graduate in 200 years of MCPHS history who got an education that prepared me to help people through all the uncertainty of a global pandemic.”

Dr. Patel is about to celebrate a decade of military service, which he began as a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student at MCPHS. He joined the Navy in 2014 through the Health Services Collegiate Program, which provides scholarships for certain healthcare students. After graduating from MCPHS, he received his officer commission and has been advancing ever since. He was promoted to lieutenant commander last September.

“I always say I’m a Naval officer first, then a pharmacist,” Dr. Patel said.

Today, Dr. Patel is Chief of Pharmacy at Alexander T. Augusta Military Medical Center on Fort Belvoir, an Army base in Virginia. He oversees a department of more than 100 people across the clinical and outpatient pharmacies and three branch clinics in the area, including one in the Pentagon. His colleagues are a mixture of service members from multiple branches of the military, and government service employees.

“We all come together with a common goal of taking care of the patient,” he said. “I have a kaleidoscope of responsibilities, and every day is different.”

The variety is Dr. Patel’s favorite part of the job and the reason he chose pharmacy in the first place. He can wear any number of hats on any given day and must be ready to switch at a moment’s notice.

“I’m currently in an administrative role, but it’s up to me to ensure my pharmacist skills are up to date and that I can do the job of a staff pharmacist. If I were to deploy, that’s what I’d be expected to do.”

Dr. Patel spends his days balancing his priorities, responsibilities, and interests. On one side is his dedication to the pharmacy profession, ensuring pharmacists are used to their fullest potential in the military.

“Pharmacy leaders in the Navy have recently become more involved in the operational setting and becoming more forward-facing,” he explained. “I’ve also seen military facilities get into pharmacogenomics and keep pace with innovations at other institutions.”

On the other side is his commitment to service, which has only intensified over the last decade.

“I joined to be a part of something bigger. I didn’t want to stand by. I wanted to use my skills to serve my country. The service piece is a huge part of why I’ve continued.”

Finally, Dr. Patel is a proven leader who is committed to the mission at hand.

“It’s an officer’s responsibility to lead by example. In Guam, I learned how to lead during a crisis. The priorities were taking care of our people and supporting their needs. Clear and effective communication is incredibly important.”

He said he laid the foundation for his current leadership role while he was a student at MCPHS, particularly in the PharmD Honors Program.

“The program not only encourages students to want more but also enables them to achieve more by providing the additional tools and skills they will need to join the workforce. It’s the reason I wanted to be a part of it.”

Ten years ago, Dr. Patel might not have predicted that he’d still be in the Navy, advancing not only as an officer but also as a pharmacist. He said he hopes to be an example of the possibilities for healthcare providers in the military.

“There are opportunities in every branch or in government service,” he said. “I’d encourage students to explore them as possibilities. It’s easy to be focused on the salary you’ll make or the company you work for, but instead, I say focus on the patient. Think about who you want to take care of. Be curious and do good things.”