Pharmacist: job description

Pharmacists dispense drugs prescribed by doctors and other health professionals and provide information to patients about medications and their use. This career requires life-long learning to keep up to date with new drugs and treatments.

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What does a pharmacist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals responsible for supplying medicines in the most economical and effective way possible. It is an applied medical science. Pharmacists constantly monitor the quality, safety and the use of medicines, requiring a high level of involvement and interaction with patients. They also need to have a strong knowledge of legislation and professional codes of practice. There can be some confusion between the role of a pharmacist and a pharmacologist, but pharmacology is a separate field that involves investigating the effects drugs have on the body.

There are three main areas a pharmacist can work in: you can be a hospital pharmacist, retail or community pharmacist, or industrial pharmacist.

  • Hospital pharmacists work closely with doctors and are responsible for the ordering, quality testing, storing and security of drugs and medicines in hospitals. They must also ensure an adequate supply of medicine.
  • Retail or community pharmacists supply prescribed and over-the-counter medicines to the general public in a retail pharmacy (such as a local chemist), and give advice to customers on the safe use of medicines and possible side effects.
  • Industrial pharmacists work in pharmaceutical companies where they help to discover safe and effective new drugs, develop them into effective medicines, and market the finished product to customers.

The day-to-day job of a pharmacist will depend on the area they work in but typical responsibilities may include:

  • compounding and dispensing medications as prescribed by doctors and dentists, by calculating, weighing, measuring, and mixing ingredients
  • reviewing prescriptions from doctors to ensure accuracy, to ascertain the needed ingredients, and to evaluate their suitability for the patient
  • providing information and advice about drugs, their side effects, correct dosage, and proper storage
  • keeping records such as pharmacy files, patient profiles, charge system files, inventories, and registries of poisons, narcotics or controlled drugs
  • planning, implementing or maintaining procedures for mixing, packaging and labelling pharmaceuticals according to policy and legal requirements to ensure quality, security and proper disposal.
  • assessing the identity, strength or purity of medications
  • working with other healthcare professionals to plan, monitor, review, or evaluate the quality or effectiveness of drugs
  • ordering and purchasing pharmaceutical supplies, medical supplies, or drugs
  • maintaining stock and storing and handling it properly
  • analysing prescribing trends to monitor patient compliance and to prevent excessive usage or harmful interactions
  • advising customers on the selection of medication brands, medical equipment or healthcare supplies

Typical employers of pharmacists

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Pharmacy chains
  • Independent pharmacies
  • Supermarket pharmacies
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Vacancies are advertised by careers services, in national newspapers and specialist publications including Chemist and Druggist and The Pharmaceutical Journal and their online equivalents. Pre-registration training placements are advertised in the annually published Pre-Reg Manual.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.

Qualifications and training required

It takes five years to qualify as a pharmacist in England and Wales, and up to six years in Scotland. The first step is an MPharm degree approved by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The MPharm is a four-year course in England and Wales, and typically a five-year course in Scotland. You’ll then need to complete one year’s pre-registration training in a pharmacy before sitting the registration exam set by the GPhC. To practice as a pharmacist, you must be registered with the GPhC

Relevant experience gained in any retail area involving contact with customers or the general public can be beneficial when applying for jobs as a pharmacist.

It’s possible for a school leaver to get an apprenticeship as a pharmacy technician, whose role is to prepare prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist. However, it’s not possible to become a pharmacist without a degree in pharmacy. To find out more about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or a school leaver training programme), see the science section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for pharmacists

  • Analytical skills
  • Ability to think critically
  • Strong numerical skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving
  • Observation skills
  • Communication and social skills

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