Pharmacists prepare and distribute drugs and medicinal items after going through the necessary training. They also provide advice about basic healthcare problems.
The role of a clinical/retail pharmacist
Pharmacists are practising health professionals. They often work from a particular premise and sell over the counter drugs or deal with prescriptions. Their primary role is to maintain public health through the distribution of drugs.
However, there has been a growing trend recently for pharmacists to act as advisors for health issues and the relevant qualifications will allow individuals to offer basic advice. For many people, the local pharmacist will be the first port of call when they are suffering from a particular ailment.
The role of a pharmacist is more varied than many people think and hospital pharmacists will often be called upon to advise medical and nursing staff on the correct drugs to use.
The current pay scale (2008-2009) for pharmacists in the NHS is £23,458 to £31,779 a year. However, graduates should expect a starting salary of £19,683 on a pre-registration basis.
The salary for a pharmacy consultant or pharmacy team manager working in the NHS could rise to approximately £75,000.
Dispensing pharmacists are often self-employed and own their own business. Salaries will ultimately depend upon the success of the particular business. Pharmacists practising in the development of new drugs can expect very high salaries and bonuses from the private sector, depending upon the success and commercial viability of their work.
- Working with other medical professionals to help individuals recover from illnesses
- Distributing drugs and medicines
- Advising patients on the most appropriate drug for their symptoms and potential side-effects
- Monitoring the effectiveness of a particular drug, medicine, or treatment
- Preparing and checking medication
- Ensuring that drugs are stored properly
- Ensuring that drugs are administered correctly
- Orchestrating clinical trials and evaluating the claims of pharmaceutical companies
- Keeping a register of controlled medicines for legal reasons
- Providing basic testing services e.g. diabetes, pregnancy, blood pressure, and cholesterol
Most individuals who wish to become professional pharmacists will undertake a 4 year undergraduate course in pharmacy, followed by a Masters in Pharmacy qualification (MPharm). There are currently twenty-five universities in the UK which offer an appropriate course but, to ensure that you will be licensed to practice, it is worth checking that the course you are interested in is approved by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (“RPSGB”). The RPSGB is the professional and regulatory body for pharmacists in the UK. A full list of accredited courses is available here.
The minimum requirements for university entrance are usually 5 A-C grade GCSEs, as well as 3 A Levels. Most universities require A Levels in science subjects as well as mathematics.
For those wishing to practise, the next step will be to complete one year of practical training. Applications need to be made to the NHS in order to take part in the one-year pre-registration programme. All students will be expected to spend at least six months in a hospital or similar medical institution before taking a final registration exam. Further details are available from the NHS and can be found by clicking here. There is an annual intake of students, so you will need to register early.
Pharmacists will need to possess the following skills:
Technical Skills – individuals will need to have a detailed knowledge of pharmacology. They should know how to prepare medicines and create artificial drugs. Furthermore, in-depth knowledge of biochemistry, the impact of drugs on behaviours and human function, drug distribution and dosage, and the legal regulations and governance of drugs will also be necessary. These skills will all be developed through appropriate study.
Communication – strong inter-personal and communication skills are a must for this job. There will be many difficult situations occurring on a daily basis and it will be necessary to liaise with a wide range of different people. Tolerance, subtlety, tact, understanding, and patience are essential skills to possess.
Detail – Pharmacists must be very precise in their distribution of drugs, as this may be a matter of life or death.
Teamwork – you will be expected to work with a wide range of individuals, including nurses and doctors, to ensure that all patients are well-cared for.
For careers in business and dispensing pharmacy, an in-depth knowledge of business practices will be very useful.
Most pharmacists will be expected to work between the hours of 9-5 but they may also be asked to do shift work or be on call if working in a hospital environment. The job can be stressful but most individuals find it very rewarding and enjoy the knowledge that they are helping people to recover from illnesses.
Registration can be difficult and it is advisable to obtain relevant work experience in order to increase your chances of employment.
The NHS is a major employer for pharmacists in both hospitals and GP surgeries.
Business & Private Practices employ pharmacists and individuals interested in related careers.
Universities are always looking for graduates to continue their studies and add to the current body of impressive research.
Supermarkets and other businesses hire dispensing pharmacists to work in their stores.
Depending upon particular areas of interest, it is possible to work in a wide range of roles within the pharmaceutical business. Some of these roles are detailed above (see the related jobs section). Several employment areas will require a background in biochemistry and pharmaceutical companies often employ graduates to work in the development of new drugs.
Progression will often involve promotion within a particular business or within a large health body e.g. the NHS. The increasing demand for holistic health has also seen some independent pharmacists take on roles in GP surgeries.
Also known as…
- Dispensing chemist
What’s it really like?
Lizzie Owen is 40 years old, and works as a Dispensing Pharmacist at a GP surgery.
How long have you been in this particular job?
I’ve been working in this industry for 18 years. I have recently started working at a GP surgery and I have been helping them to set up a new pharmacy operation in line with a wider holistic practice.
What did you do before this job?
Before this job I was working as a community pharmacist.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
As mentioned above, my current role involves dispensing for a GP surgery. This will involve liaising with the doctors, advising on protocols, and dispensing drugs within the practice. I have been in this practice for two months and a major element of my role is making sure that doctors describe drugs generically rather than by brand name.
What do you like about the job?
I like the holistic element of care in the community and love working as part of a team. I live in a rural community and our services make a big difference.
What do you dislike about the job?
I love what I do since my job is very fulfilling and I am my own boss. Even when I worked for a community pharmacy, it was always a pleasure to deal with a range of different people and was equally fulfilling. There is nothing I dislike about the job.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
This is a very fulfilling role but is highly structured. You have to be very methodical in the work you are doing. There is no margin for error in a dispensing role.
What job do you think you might do after this role?
I believe I will stay in this profession until retirement. The nature of the job does allow you to enjoy time to yourself but you will have to be flexible depending upon the working environment since the roles are very different.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
If Pharmacy is a career you are considering, there are various areas you can explore. The main three areas to consider are hospital, community, and dispensing. The biggest challenge is hospital pharmacy because you will actually be on the wards assessing patients and providing bespoke drug programmes for individuals. This is a heavily advisory role and individuals will be expected to work hand-in-hand with the consultant.
On the other hand, community pharmacy involves dealing with people straight ‘from the street’. As a consequence, you don’t always know who is going to walk through the door or whether the prescription is even valid. This means that you may spend considerable time resolving issues and ensuring things are correct and accurate. You should also be aware that there is a lot of study of ethics and law within the profession.