Pharmacists specialise in the area of drugs and medicine. They work in a variety of settings, usually beginning their career in an NHS community or hospital pharmacy.
Community pharmacists work in a retail environment, preparing medicines ordered on prescription or bought over-the-counter. They give healthcare advice to the general public and provide information on how to use medicines correctly – highlighting dosage and any contraindications. In addition, they are likely to be business managers and therefore require the skills necessary to make the pharmacy profitable. Selling a range of products, as well as supervising and training a number of staff, the community pharmacist must be financially astute, able to order and control stock and be responsible for the maintenance of premises.
Hospital pharmacists prepare and supply medication, check labels and prescriptions, and advise on the dosage and administration of drugs. They may visit wards, give clinical advice to colleagues and supply them with current information on drugs. They are responsible for the purchase, storage, stock control, quality testing and distribution of medicines within the hospital. Senior pharmacists may be involved in supervising pre-registration trainees and junior pharmacists.
Industrial pharmacists research and develop new medicines, carry out experiments, evaluate results, produce reports and make recommendations.
Pharmacists can also work within health authorities, for wholesalers, in universities, for research institutes, in food production, and the chemical industry.
All pharmacists maintain records and ensure the laws controlling medicines are observed.
The hours of work of a community pharmacist can vary from a few hours a week to 48 hours a week.
Hospital pharmacists will work 37.5 hours a week. Weekend and on-call rotas are common.
Industrial pharmacists normally work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
To be a pharmacist, you should:
Some pharmacists go on to teach, others work as locums (filling temporary/holiday posts). It may be possible to become self-employed, owning and managing a pharmacy, or possibly work overseas.
There may be opportunities to move into management, or sideways into areas such as production and toxicology.
Promotion opportunities are excellent in larger pharmacies, and can lead to regional or national management. There is a formal career structure in the NHS.
A degree in pharmacy can provide a good foundation to occupations in areas like forensic science, food processing, the cosmetics industries, and scientific journalism.
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