Article: Pharmacy Careers
This article covers the following jobs:
- Community Pharmacist
- Hospital Pharmacist
- Industrial Pharmacist
- Pharmacy Technician.
The job descriptions are only a brief summary. You should find out more about the careers that interest you.
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Pharmacy is the science of drugs and medicines. Drugs are chemicals that affect how our bodies work.
Pharmacists study the chemical and physical properties of drugs, their action on the body and how they can be made into effective medicines that people can take safely.
They can go on to work in three main areas:
- community pharmacy
- hospital pharmacy
- industrial pharmacy.
Pharmacy technicians help and support pharmacists.
What do the different types of pharmacist do?
Pharmacy technicians help and support pharmacists. They work in places such as community pharmacies (for example, high street chemists' shops), hospitals and companies that make medicines.
In community pharmacies, they check prescriptions and follow the instructions to prepare medicines, for example, counting out tablets and measuring liquids.
They give customers advice on how to use medicines safely, and discuss possible side-effects with them.
Technicians in hospitals prepare medicines to prescriptions and make sure the wards have enough of each medicine to treat patients. They also give advice to patients.
In pharmaceutical companies, technicians help pharmacists to research and develop new drugs. They manage the day-to-day running of the laboratory, for example, setting up and clearing away equipment and recording experiment results.
Hospital pharmacists make sure patients receive the right medicines and take these medicines safely. They work closely with doctors, nurses, pharmacy technicians and other medical staff to ensure that patients receive the best treatment.
They give advice to doctors on the most appropriate drug treatments, the correct dosage, and any likely reactions between different treatments or foods that the patient is taking.
In most hospitals, pharmacists have direct contact with patients on the ward, checking their medical history, giving advice on how to take medicines and monitoring for side-effects.
Most medicines arrive at the hospital ready-made, although the pharmacist might have to mix ingredients to make things such as liquids and tablets for one-off treatments.
There are a number of specialist areas, including cancer care, older adults, palliative care (terminally ill patients) and outpatient care (patients who don't have to stay in the hospital overnight).
Hospital pharmacists usually supervise a team of technicians who are responsible for routine tasks such as counting out tablets and putting labels on medicines.
Industrial pharmacists work for companies that make medicines. They research to find new drugs that work well and are safe to use, and then develop these into effective medicines.
Research involves experiments in the laboratory to find drugs that are more effective at treating a particular illness, or ones that have fewer unwanted side-effects.
Many industrial pharmacists are involved in development work. This means finding substances that they can mix with the drug to make it into a medicine.
Pharmacists work out what the ideal dose of the drug is, what it needs to be mixed with, and whether it can be made safely and relatively cheaply in large quantities.
Pharmacists might also be involved with clinical trials. This is when the new medicine is first tried out on people.
Community pharmacists supply and sell medicines to patients on prescription. They also sell 'over-the-counter' medicines and remedies that people can buy without needing a prescription.
They advise people on how to use medicines safely. They also give advice on general health issues including healthy eating, family planning and giving up smoking.
Most medicines arrive at the pharmacy ready-made, although the pharmacist might sometimes have to mix ingredients to make things such as tablets, powders and ointments.
Community pharmacists often supervise technicians who do routine work such as counting out tablets and labelling medicines.
Community pharmacists work in places such as high street chemists' shops, rural pharmacies, supermarket pharmacy counters and health centres.
How do I get into pharmacy?
To become a registered pharmacist, you need to complete a degree in pharmacy that is accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).
This degree is known as a Master of Pharmacy (MPharm); courses usually take four years to complete.
Five-year courses for people with non-science A levels are available at a small number of universities.
After successfully completing your degree course, you will need to complete a 'pre-registration year' in a pharmacy setting. For example, this could be in a community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy department or an industrial pharmaceutical company. Both the training site and the tutor supervising you must be approved by the GPhC. If you train in industry or a primary care organisation, you'll also need to spend at least six months of the pre-registration year in either a community or hospital pharmacy. For more advice, please see the GPhC website.
The University of Bradford has a five-year 'Practice-integrated' MPharm sandwich course, incorporating the 'pre-registration' year.
When you have completed the pre-registration year, you need to sit the GPhC or Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) registration exam. You must pass this exam before you can join the GPhC/PSNI Register.
In industrial pharmacy, it can sometimes be an advantage to have a postgraduate qualification.
First, you need to enter a trainee position, which can be in any pharmacy setting (such as a community or hospital pharmacy or pharmaceutical company).
Your training period will be two years' work-based experience under a pharmacist's supervision. The pharmacist must be directly responsible for you for at least 14 hours a week over this time.
You'll need to work towards two qualifications. One is competency-based (testing what you can do) and the other is knowledge-based. This means you'll also go on a college course or have distance learning. The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) approves courses.
You'll do one competency-based and one knowledge-based qualification from the list below:
- Edexcel (BTEC) or City & Guilds level 3 Diploma in Pharmaceutical Science (knowledge).
- Edexcel (BTEC) or City & Guilds level 3 NVQ Diploma in Pharmacy Service Skills (competence).
- SQA National Certificate in Pharmaceutical Science (knowledge).
- SQA level 3 SVQ in Pharmacy Services (competence).
The National Pharmacy Association and Buttercups Training Ltd run accredited distance learning courses leading to the level 3 NVQ Diploma and a knowledge-based qualification.
When you've successfully completed your training period and both qualifications, you'll be able to register as a pharmacy technician with the GPhC.
You might be able to enter and train through an Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Health - Pharmacy Services.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
These careers are exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Address: 1 Lambeth High Street, London SE1 7JN
Tel: 0845 2572570
Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland
Address: Holyrood Park House, 106 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AS
Tel: 0131 5564386
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
Address: 7th floor, Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT
Tel: 0870 8904333
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Scotland
Address: Crichton House, 4 Crichton's Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT
Tel: 0131 5230493
National Pharmacy Association (NPA)
Address: 38-42 St Peter's Street, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 3NP
Tel: 01727 858687
Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
Address: Apothecaries' Hall, Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EJ
Tel: 020 7236 1189