Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Conversation With...Carla Green Benjamin

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 by Sara Jewell.

If Carla Green hadn’t failed a test during her first year of university, she would not have become a pharmacist. 
And she would have missed out on a career that she truly enjoys. 
“I originally went to university to study math and physics and I might have been an engineer,” Carla says. “I ended up having mono my first year and I missed a lot of time. When I came back to school having been out a month, I was behind, I was frustrated, I failed my first ever test. I just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. It’s a bit of perfectionism: if you can’t do it perfectly, you don’t want to do it at all. I had a good friend who was studying pharmacy and I thought that looked kind of interesting.”
But that wasn’t the only life-changing decision she’d make as a result of her illness. 
Carla was in her second year of her four-year pharmacy degree when she heard about the military program. 
“When I got into pharmacy school, there were classmates who were doing that program and they were telling me how they were guaranteed a job, their tuition was paid for, their books were paid for. They had a salary while they were in school, they had to attend two meetings during the school year, and guaranteed summer employment. Then they had to give five years of service when they were done their studies. I thought that was a great idea.”
So at the age of 21, she applied to the Canadian Armed Forces.
“It was pretty exciting and pretty scary,” Carla remembers. “I was a young woman but I wasn’t superfit. I was never in cadets. I wasn’t a runner. I was a fairly rugged individual but I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”
Heading off to boot camp the summer after her second year, Carla faced challenges before even arriving at Borden, Ontario. 
“I was getting on a military flight at Shearwater and I’d never flown anywhere so I was getting on my very first flight in a uniform I didn’t know how to wear properly because I hadn’t done any training yet, surrounded by all these other military personnel. As an officer cadet, you are the lowest rank in officers. You have to salute everyone of higher rank and I didn’t know how to do that. I was afraid I’d get in trouble. I was absolutely terrified.”
Carla lucked into three roommates who were nurses but also had been in cadets.  She says they knew about drill and polishing boots and making beds with tight corners. 
“All the sorts of things I wasn’t good at,” she laughs. “My strength was in academics. I had no experience with anything to do with the military. Drill was kind of fun. It took me three years to master shining boots and I still can’t iron worth crap!”
For Carla, who is afraid of heights and deep water, it was the obstacle course she dreaded most. 
“Obstacle course was my biggest fear because I’m afraid of heights and deep water. The swimming test was a big, frightening thing because we had to jump off a high board into a pool, fully clothed in our combat gear,” she says, speaking as if it happened last week. “But by the time I was done, I realized I could do those things so I wasn’t as afraid of them as much.”
Even though it has been more than twenty years since boot camp, Carla talks about her experience vividly.  
“It made a huge impression on me,” she readily admits. “Going in, I didn’t know anything about the military but by the time I was done my training and had graduated, it was really a big part of me.”
She says she enjoyed both her career as a pharmacist and as a military captain (the main working rank for pharmacists). 
“I enjoyed what I was doing. I was learning, I had a variety of different pharmacy jobs from the mid-sized hospital in Halifax to a tiny base in Manitoba to Ottawa. I was there in a larger hospital. I really enjoyed clinical pharmacy there. I enjoyed being pharmacist but I enjoyed the military aspect of it as well.”
In 1996, after ten years of service and believing she’d achieved all she could in the military, Carla decided to apply for release. Wanting to be close to home, which is the Truro area, she responded to an ad for a position at Henley’s Pharmacy in Oxford in 1997.
“I came down on the Easter long weekend to meet them and interview and they offered me the job on the spot. Before I went back to Ontario, I’d bought a house.”
The same house she now shares with husband of 11 years, Mark Benjamin, seven cats and two dogs. 
Carla may not have been the stereotypical straight-backed, barking-orders army broad the staff may have envisioned but she admits there is a little bit of that in her still. 
“There’s always going to be a sense of pride,” she says. 
Eventually, she opened her own pharmacy then a few years later, bought out Henley’s and moved into the Main Street location. But the years behind the counter took their toll. She developed circulation problems in her legs and was told to stay off her feet. 
“I’m a retail pharmacist, I’m on my feet all day,” she told the specialist. 
Forced to sell her business seven years ago in order to heal her legs,  she wasn’t prepared to give up what she enjoys doing and has now returned to her first love, hospital pharmacy.
Carla does have one regret about her military career: She never served overseas. 
“I would have gone overseas in a heartbeat,” says Carla but the timing was never right. 
During the first Gulf War, she was the only pharmacist and only officer in a small hospital in Manitoba.  
“I had this deep sense of loyalty already. They needed good medical people and I was a good pharmacist and I wanted to go.”
“Had I stayed in longer than I did, I would have gone to Bosnia.”
But to quote the great English poet John Milton, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’

Carla's got muscle: Her Camaro and her dogs, Mack and Oliver.

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