Hearns blazes PharmD trail from military service to patient-centered practice

Channeling his passion for chemistry and computers into the ever-evolving landscape of pharmacy, Class of 2013 graduate Zachary Hearns, PharmD, BCPS, carved out his own lane—from military service to innovative pharmacy leadership.

Hearns felt the pull of service from a young age. "I come from a military family," said Hearns, whose father served four decades in the Navy. "I knew that both my brother and I were expected to join the military, and the Navy seemed like a natural path. But life had other plans for me."

Hearns never doubted that he would fulfill his obligation, but his journey took an unexpected turn during his undergraduate years at UC San Diego when a pivotal internship at a pharmaceutical company solidified his decision to pursue pharmacy as a career.

Today his career as a clinical pharmacist embodies leadership, blending firsthand experience in inpatient, outpatient, and ambulatory care pharmacy operations with his military background.

Resourcefulness and support pave the way for leadership

Like many aspiring students, Hearns faced financial challenges and the absence of a direct pathway to military pharmacy. But his resourcefulness propelled him from service in the Navy to becoming pharmacy manager at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion.

"I knew that pursuing my passion would require sacrifices," he said. "With perseverance and support, I overcame these hurdles."

Hearns chose the School of Pharmacy when he learned of UCSF’s renowned reputation for cutting-edge health care education. What set UCSF apart for Hearns, he said, is its commitment to innovation and patient-centered care.

"I realized that I wanted to work directly with patients and make an impact on their lives," he said, adding that choosing UCSF School of Pharmacy was a no-brainer. “Maybe at first I thought I wanted to become a physician, but pharmacists have expertise in medications, and UCSF's reputation as a world-class institution is unparalleled.”

"I realized that while medicine was noble, my true calling lay in working with medications," he continued. "Pharmacy offered me the chance to make a tangible difference through medication management."

A path less traveled leads to deeper understanding

At UCSF, Hearns found a supportive community that embraced his uncommon path. The School provided him with the resources and mentorship he needed to navigate the complexities of military officer recruitment while pursuing his pharmacy degree. Through UCSF's rigorous curriculum and hands-on experiences, Hearns honed his clinical skills and developed a deep understanding of patient care.

Hearns said he was drawn to the School's ethos of empowering students. He saw UCSF as not just a place to earn a degree but also as a launchpad for his aspirations to pursue both military service and pharmacy practice.

Upon graduation, he served in diverse Navy roles that included leading a trauma pharmacy in Afghanistan and spearheading technology integrations in hospital pharmacies. His military experience equipped him with resilience, invaluable leadership skills, and a profound sense of duty to patient welfare.

Now, as pharmacy manager, Hearns continues to leverage his military and pharmacy expertise. "UCSF's cultivation of my passion for technology has translated seamlessly into civilian operations," he said.

Above and beyond service with pharmacy residency

While serving active duty in the Navy, Hearns realized that there was no straightforward path to pharmacy residency or additional pharmacy training. Yet he still wanted to explore new experiences within pharmacy.

So, once he returned to civilian life, Hearns sought to leverage his military experiences. The residency he pursued provided him with the opportunity to delve deeper into his areas of interest. He was able to further refine his skills while contributing to projects aimed at improving patient care through technological innovation.

Teamwork makes the pharmacy dream work

His trailblazing journey from military service to pharmacy leadership exemplifies the transformative impact of pursuing one's passion with unwavering determination. At UCSF, Hearns found not just an education but also a community that nurtured his aspirations.

"My time in the military taught me the importance of adaptability, crisis management, and teamwork. It shaped me into the leader I am today," he said.

At UCSF, Hearns immersed himself in volunteering and community engagement. "UCSF's commitment to diversity and inclusion inspired me to give back to underserved communities. The culture taught me the importance of empathy and service."

Using innovative leadership to empower our health care workforce

His leadership is characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence, exemplifying the transformative power of perseverance, and dedication to improving health care outcomes for all.

"Serving underserved communities at UCSF resonated deeply with me. It reinforced my pledge to make a difference," he said. "And studying in San Francisco provided me with the perfect environment to realize my dreams of merging my interests in chemistry, technology, and patient care."

Technology had always been a driving force that motivated Hearns to explore ways of incorporating information technology into health systems. "I've always been fascinated by the potential of technology to revolutionize health care,” he said. “It has guided my career and fueled my desire to innovate."

And it was Hearns' experience in Afghanistan that provided him with firsthand insight into crisis management and trauma care.

In the military, Hearns implemented and managed automated dispensing systems, an experience that assisted him in his current role utilizing automated dispensing cabinets and other logistics systems to manage inventory. “By leveraging technology, we can enhance efficiency and address supply shortages,” he said. “It's about empowering our health care workforce."

Hearns remains vigilant about ensuring uninterrupted patient care. "Using technology for strategic planning helps mitigate supply shortages and deliver seamless care to our patients," he said. "Whether it's integrating technology or enhancing pharmacy operations, everything we do is geared toward improving patient care.”

Diversity, inclusivity, and collaboration deliver the best possible care

While Hearns' work blending his military background with his fervent dedication to patient care and technological advancement makes him a pioneer in many respects, he said he never felt like an outsider at UCSF because his class was characterized by diversity, reflecting the institution's focus on inclusivity.

"Interacting with classmates from diverse backgrounds enriched my educational experience," he says. "It taught me the importance of empathy, cultural competence, and collaboration in health care."

And while military and civilian operations may differ in structure and terminology, Hearns found common ground in his commitment to excellence and patient-centered care, securing his devotion to the dynamic world of pharmacy.

"Both environments present unique challenges and opportunities," he explains. "But ultimately, it's about delivering the best possible care to those who need it most."


School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.