Pharmacist Jobs and Careers
If you have a scientific mind and are interested in a steady career with regular hours, close to home, then you might wish to consider pharmacy. Opportunities in this field are increasing. As experts in medicine, pharmacists now work not only in the high street chemists, but in other areas of healthcare, including doctor's surgeries, hospital wards and various medical clinics, as well as holding research positions in industry and universities. The direction you pursue depends largely on how much you wish to work with the public and contribute to individual health, as against contributing through involvement in the development of new products.
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In this article, we consider the positions available to pharmacists who wish to work directly with both people and animals.
What is Involved in the Pharmacist Job?
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain recognises the following areas of work as being available to the qualified pharmacist.
- Community pharmacists work in the dispensary or behind the medicine counter at your local chemists. They listen to enquiries from customers and try to identify the best medication to assist with the ailments described. They also prepare medication in response to prescriptions that customers bring from their GPs. For housebound customers, the pharmacist might organise delivery of medication. These pharmacists often own their own business and become an important part of the fabric of community life, using good communication skills to assist regular and occasional customers. They also need to have good business skills in order to make a success of their own retail operation.
- Hospital pharmacists work in a team with the clinical team, including surgeons, doctors and nurses. They usually respond to the orders sent through by different departments in the hospital to prepare medications for inpatients. However, with increasing mechanisation of drug preparation, some pharmacists in larger hospitals are able to spend longer on the wards, adjusting medications to suit individual patients. They take a history of the patient's drug taking and may liaise with GPs once the patient leaves. In hospitals, pharmacists may specialise in a particular medical area, becoming consultants.
- Industrial pharmacists are involved in researching new and emerging areas of medicine, such as gene therapy or nano-medicine. They work alongside scientists in other disciplines to address new ways of fighting disease, as well as enhancing the production of medications.
- Primary care pharmacists work at a strategic level in the primary healthcare system, establishing ways of making the best use of resources across a region. This involves assessing and evaluating the needs of general practitioners, practice nurses, community healthcare professionals and hospitals.
- Regulatory pharmacists work for Government agencies and organisations that have been set up to have a positive effect upon public health. Usually, this means regulating the development and testing of medications by drug companies before these are made available to the public.
- Academic pharmacists are involved in research, teaching and practising at universities and research institutes. Teaching usually takes place in a hospital or pharmacy, as well as the university or institutes itself. Research areas include drug design and the provision of pharmacy services.
- Army pharmacists are members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Their role is to support members of the armed forces during conflicts or in peacekeeping operations. They are constantly undertaking training and professional development, while experiencing travel with the services. In peacetime, they distribute medical supplies to units at home and abroad, and work within service hospital units. During conflict, they are involved in distributing medication and medical equipment to units and providing support in field hospitals.
- Veterinary pharmacists supply medications for use by animals, usually pets but also, in rural areas, farm livestock. This is still a new area and represents a business challenge, suitable for those who are enterprising.
Is This Job Right for You?
People who are successful in pharmaceutical jobs usually wish to contribute to society by supporting people's health and well-being through the provision of medicine. A strong interest in science is essential, coupled with the desire to study and to keep studying throughout your professional life. In most areas of the industry, people skills are valuable, as well as the ability to listen and communicate effectively.
Particularly in community pharmacy, anxious customers or patients are going to need words of reassurance from time to time. Attention to detail is needed for safety reasons, as it is essential that dosages are accurate. You will need to possess integrity and follow codes of confidentiality when dealing with customers, who may be giving you highly personal information.
Business skills help the community pharmacist run their retail business, selling non-prescription products from the shop shelves as well as dispensing. This means financial management skills, inventory and stock control, pricing and merchandising. You will usually need to employ staff and adhere to employment regulations.
Some technical and IT skills are important, particularly in hospital pharmacy, where new technology is rapidly changing the role. If aiming to work in hospital pharmacy, a stronger interest in healthcare is required, as consultation with healthcare professionals will be a daily part of the job.
In research, an enquiring mind and the ability to think independently is important. Likewise, you need to be able to plan and shape a research project through its various stages. The motivation to broach new horizons in healthcare through the use of medication is vital.
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Environment and Hours
Working in the community means being based in a retail pharmacy, pursuing more or less regular office hours, with additional rota opening times over weekends and public holidays. Working in a public or military hospital will necessitate weekend working on a rota. Military pharmacists will work highly variable hours. Academic and industrial researchers will be working more regular daytime hours during the week.
To become a pharmacist, you need to take science subjects at A-level (or Scottish equivalent), usually chemistry and one other, such as biology or physics, together with mathematics. Some undergraduates have gained admission with other qualifications, such as Higher National Diplomas, the International Baccalaureate, etc.
Strong grades will enable you to apply for a place on a pharmacy degree course at university, usually a 3-year BSc followed by a 1-year MSc. The degree course covers the origin and chemistry of drugs, the preparation of medicines, actions and uses of drugs and medicines, and pharmacy practice.
This is then supplemented by one year's practical training as a graduate in a community or hospital pharmacy. Upon successful completion, you can then pass a registration examination that enables you to work independently.
Salaries and Prospects
As a graduate who has yet to register, you can work in the NHS with a starting salary of around £15,000. Upon registration, this rises to around £20,000-22,000. Later specialisation can lead to higher salaries as pharmacists rise to consultant status, or to management roles, where they are involved in supervising technical and support staff.
Salaries are far higher for industrial pharmacists, rising to an upper limit of £60,000. Community pharmacists' salaries depend entirely on their local chemist and success in running a chemist's business.
Pharmacist Jobs Sites
Specialist pharmacy career and recruitment companies include:
Leading High Street Chemists include: