A pharmacist is an expert in medicines and their use.
The majority of pharmacists practice in hospital pharmacy, community pharmacy or in primary care pharmacy, working to ensure that patients get the maximum benefit from their medicines. They advise medical and nursing staff on the selection and appropriate use of medicines.
They provide information to patients on how to manage their medicines to ensure optimal treatment. Pharmacists are able to undertake additional training in order to allow them to prescribe medicines for specific conditions.
If you are interested in science and healthcare, this job could be just what you are looking for. Pharmacists provide expert advice on the use and supply of drugs and medicines. This could include checking prescriptions and making sure that laws controlling medicines are followed.
To do this job you will need a high level of scientific understanding and ability. You will also need to be good at problem solving. And you’ll need to be responsible and security-conscious.
Before you can work as a pharmacist, you need to complete a four-year Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree. After that you’ll need a one-year pre-registration training course in a pharmacy. Finally, you’ll need to pass a registration exam.
You would usually be based at a retail location (where you would be known as a community pharmacist) or at a hospital pharmacy.
As a community pharmacist in a retail location your work could include:
- giving healthcare advice and help to the public
- delivering medication to people who are unable to leave home
- visiting care homes to advise on the use and storage of medication
- preparing medicines bought at the counter
- giving advice on how to use medicines correctly, including the amount to use (dosage) and any risksselling a range of products
- ordering and controlling stock
- running or helping to run a business, including supervising and training staff.
In a hospital setting, your duties could include:
- giving advice on dosage and the most suitable form of medicine (such as a tablet, inhaler or injection)
- producing medicines (for example, creating a treatment or solution when ready made ones are not available)
- visiting wards, giving advice about medicines to colleagues and providing them with current information
- buying, quality testing and distributing medicines throughout the hospital
- supervising trainees and junior pharmacists.
Another option is to work as a pharmacist with a local primary care trust. This could involve giving advice to GPs on prescribing, running clinics at a GP practice and training local prescribers on issues related to managing and prescribing medicines.
You could also work in education or in industry, carrying out research into new medicines and running clinical trials.
As a community pharmacist, you could work up to 48 hours a week full-time. Part-time work is often available.
In a hospital setting, you would usually work around 37.5 hours a week, including weekends and as part of an on-call rota.
Pharmacists can earn between around £22,000 and £34,200 a year.
Pharmacy consultants or team managers can earn between £45,300 and £80,810 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Before you can work as a pharmacist, you need to complete:
- a four-year Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree
- a one-year pre-registration training course in a pharmacy
- a registration exam.
Your degree and training must be approved by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), the professional body for pharmacists.
To do a degree, you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C) including maths and English, plus three A levels, usually in chemistry and two other science-based subjects such as biology, maths or physics. Check with course providers for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may be accepted.
When you have finished your degree, you can apply for the one-year pre-registration programme. This includes spending at least six months in a community or hospital pharmacy, and leads to a final registration exam. For details of pre-registration training vacancies, check the NHS Hospital Pharmacy Pre-registration Training website.
Once you have completed all three stages of training you can apply for state registration and membership of the RPSGB.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is the regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises. For more information, see the GPhC website.
Training and development
As a qualified pharmacist you will need to continue your professional development throughout your career. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) website has details of a range of courses and workshops that can help you keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
If you want to do research work, you will need to gain a postgraduate qualification, for example in toxicology or pharmacology. You are likely to need a first or upper second class honours degree in pharmacy or a related subject for this.
Skills and knowledge
To become a pharmacist, you will need to have:
- good communication skills
- an interest in the health and wellbeing of people
- a high level of scientific understanding and ability
- a logical approach to problem solving
- good maths skills, with the ability to calculate and use scientific formulae
- accuracy and attention to detail
- the ability to organise and prioritise your work
- a responsible and security-conscious attitude
- the ability to train and supervise others
- good business skills (for running a community pharmacy).
You could work in the NHS, as well as in retail, education and industry. There is a formal career structure in the NHS, and with experience you could progress to team manager or pharmacy consultant. Promotion opportunities are also good with larger pharmacy chains, and you could progress to a regional or national management post. With financial backing, you may be able to set up your own community pharmacy business.
With further training you could go on to teach pharmacy students at university.
There are also opportunities to work overseas, or as a locum (filling temporary or holiday posts). You could move into related areas such as forensic science, the cosmetics industry or scientific journalism.