Careers in pharmacy
Pharmacists are experts in safe and effective drug treatment. They can work in healthcare settings, making sure people are prescribed appropriate medicines, or in industry – for example, developing and manufacturing new drugs.
How to become a pharmacist
To become a pharmacist you need:
- Science subjects in your A levels, Scottish Highers or IB – to get you onto a pharmacy degree. University entry requirements vary, but a typical course might ask for chemistry plus at least one out of biology, maths or physics. A few courses will accept biology instead of chemistry, or consider psychology as an alternative ‘second’ subject. For Scottish Highers, you may also need English, require a greater number of science subjects and could need Advanced Highers. Depending on the university, generally A or B grades are required.
- A pharmacy degree accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council. These typically last four years and combine science theory and practice. A few universities run five-year courses that include a year’s worth of work placement experience that counts as your pre-registration training year (see below). You’ll receive an MPharm qualification.
- To complete a pre-registration training year. This is a year of paid work immediately after your university degree, during which you’ll be supervised by an experienced pharmacist and receive on-the-job training. Your pre-registration year could be in a community pharmacy, a hospital setting, with a drug company (industry) or a combination of two of these. You’ll also need to pass two exams set by the General Pharmaceutical Council, known as the registration assessment, and complete some paperwork (such as declaring any criminal convictions or health conditions that could affect your work).
- To register with the General Pharmaceutical Council. This shows future employers that you are fully qualified.
Different types of jobs for pharmacists
As a pharmacist there are a number of different job roles to choose from. Some of the main options include:
- Hospital pharmacist. You’ll work for a hospital carrying out tasks such as making sure patients get the right medicines in an appropriate dose and format, advising and training other staff, buying in medicines and testing their quality, and making up any medications that can’t be bought in ready made. See our Q&A with a hospital pharmacist below to find out more.
- Community pharmacist. Community pharmacists work in local pharmacy stores, or in pharmacies located within supermarkets or GP surgeries. You’ll advise customers, supervise staff, prepare prescriptions and help run the business.
- Industrial pharmacist. A career in industrial pharmacy can involve creating new drugs, overseeing their manufacture and/or certifying that they meet the relevant quality standards. You could also move into a more business-focused role.
Becoming a pharmacy technician
If you don’t fancy going to university, you could become a pharmacy technician, assisting a pharmacist under their direction. You’ll typically need GCSEs or National 4s to follow this route.
To register as a qualified pharmacy technician you’ll need to work in a pharmacy setting for at least two years as a pre-registration pharmacy technician and take qualifications approved by the General Pharmaceutical Council to assess your skills and knowledge. There are City & Guilds, BTECs, NVQs and SVQs available.
Q&A with a hospital pharmacist
TARGETcareers spoke to a hospital pharmacist to find out more about this career. She’s a senior clinical pharmacist on the surgical emergency ward.
How did you get into a career as a pharmacist?
To study pharmacy at university I took maths, physics and chemistry at A level, though most pharmacy students have studied biology.
What does your work as a pharmacist involve?
Each sector of pharmacy is slightly different but the main aim is to ensure safe and effective medication use. In the hospital setting I review patients who are admitted to hospital and check their medication history. I ensure all the regular medicines they were taking prior to admission are prescribed (if appropriate), and ensure new medicines prescribed are done so correctly and do not interact with other medicines. I also try to ensure patients are discharged from hospital in a timely manner, counselling patients on their new medicines and ensuring they know how to take them.
I provide advice to and often liaise with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients are receiving the best care. I also teach others about medicines, including junior pharmacy staff.
I am involved in reviewing medication incidents – I look at why it might have happened when something has gone wrong and if there are things we can do to prevent the errors happening again, such as extra teaching needed or processes to review and change. I also write procedures and protocols to ensure safe and proper use of medicines in the clinical ward area.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love working in a busy hospital environment within the multi-disciplinary team, including with surgeons, doctors, nurses and other pharmacists. I am constantly learning new things and being challenged in my daily role. I value being able to help patients and ensure they are receiving the best care in regard to drug therapy and have the information they need to take medicines safely on the ward and at home. I also love teaching and writing guidelines – so there is something to suit every pharmacist’s strengths and preferences!
What skills or personal qualities do you need to be a good pharmacist?
In addition to the specialist knowledge and practical skills learned through training, a pharmacist is someone who has an eye for detail, is a good team player, has good time management and communication skills, and someone who wants to ensure the best for every patient.