Careers in pharmacy

There are a number of careers in pharmacy, including pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and medicines counter assistants. Find out what skills you need for each position.

Pharmacists

Pharmacists are experts in medicines, including their use in community pharmacies and hospitals. They advise medical and nursing staff on the use of drugs, as well as advising patients on how to manage their medicines to make sure of the best possible treatment.

Hospital pharmacists

Hospital-based pharmacists are responsible for overseeing the buying, making, dispensing, quality testing, delivery and use of the medicines in their hospital. They work closely with medical and nursing staff to make sure patients receive the proper treatment. They also provide help and advice to patients in all aspects of their medicines during their stay and when they leave hospital.

Many pharmacists do specialist roles in therapeutic areas such as intensive care or cancer treatments or deliver specialist services such as the provision of medicines information.

Community pharmacists

Community-based pharmacists work from high street, local and rural pharmacies. They use their detailed knowledge to make sure that medicines are correctly and safely supplied.

They also act as health advisors to the general public offering advice on improving health in a number of areas – for example, stopping smoking.

Skills required to be a pharmacist

As well as your scientific knowledge, you must also:

be able to work with great accuracy and attention to detail, even under pressure
have good communication skills
have an ability to work well with others in the health care team
be able to advise and reassure patients

Training programmes for pharmacy

The following undergraduate, full-time, four-year programmes are offered in Northern Ireland:

You should contact the universities directly for current information on entry requirements.

Career pathway for pharmacists

There are several career options available to graduates. The majority take up places in community pharmacies and some will eventually own their own business. Others will be employed as pharmacists within the health service working in hospitals, with GPs or for healthcare organisations.

Other graduates will take up positions in research, teaching and within the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmacists may also do postgraduate training which enables them to prescribe medicines.

Professional recognition for pharmacists

The courses are recognised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

Following the successful end of the degree course, all graduates intending to register as pharmacists in are required to complete a one-year period of pre-registration training under conditions approved by the professional bodies. In addition, students are required to pass a registration examination.

Pharmacy technician

Pharmacy technicians are part of the pharmacy team and work under the supervision of a pharmacist. They are involved in the supply of medicines and products to patients.

Hospital pharmacy technician

Hospital pharmacy technicians are involved in the procurement, manufacture, dispensing and safe administration of medicines. Technicians can also routinely perform the final accuracy check on dispensed medicines, immediately before it is released to the patient.

Pharmacy technicians are trained to make medicinal products. These can include creams, ointments and mixtures and those medicines which need to be tailor made for specific patients - for example, injections used to treat cancer.

Community pharmacy technician

Community pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of registered pharmacists in retail pharmacies. They label and dispense prescribed medicines. They also provide information and advice to patients about how to use their medication.

With the guidance of the pharmacist, they are also trained to advise members of the public about over the counter medicines and management of minor ailments.

Activities can include:

  • making simple dilutions
  • making up ointments and mixtures
  • assisting with services to nursing homes and the supply of oxygen
  • helping the pharmacist in a range of other duties such as stock checking and ordering
  • keeping individual records of patients prescriptions

Skills and training needed to be a pharmacy technician

A pharmacy technician should:

  • be able to work well as part of a team
  • be organised
  • have good communication skills
  • an ability to explain things simply

Training, leading to an NVQ level 3 in pharmacy services, involves both practical experience and study at a college or by open learning. It usually takes two years to complete.

There are no minimum entry requirements to be a pharmacy technician, although you will usually be expected to have four GCSEs at Grade C or above, or the equivalent, including English, Science and Maths. You will then need to obtain a trainee post either at a hospital or in a community pharmacy.

Career pathway for pharmacy technicians

In the hospital service, there are several grades for qualified pharmacy technicians. Senior technicians can specialise in a range of pharmaceutical services while a chief technician is often responsible for managing a section of the pharmacy department.

The opportunities for specialisation and increased responsibility extend with experience. There are a number of management, administration and specialist roles undertaken by pharmacy technicians.

Professional recognition for pharmacy technicians

While there is no professional recognition in Northern Ireland, currently in GB pharmacy technicians can register with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

Pharmacy/ dispensing assistant

Pharmacy / dispensing assistants work under the supervision of pharmacists. They do general duties in community pharmacies.

These duties include:

  • sale of over the counter medicines
  • giving information to customers on symptoms and products
  • prescription receipt and collection
  • the assembly of prescribed items (including the generation of labels)
  • ordering, receiving and storing pharmaceutical stock
  • preparation for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products (including aseptic products)
  • manufacture and assembly of medicinal products (including aseptic products)

Skills and training needed to be a dispensing assistant

You should have:

  • good teamwork skills
  • an ability to communicate well
  • good organisations skills

Trainees are mostly given on-the-job training. However, you can  show ability in this area by completing NVQ level 2 in Pharmacy Services.

There are no formal entry requirements.

Career pathway for pharmacy/ dispensing assistant

For those who have gained experience and wish to take on additional responsibility, opportunities to train as a pharmacy technician may be available.

Medicines counter assistant

Medicine counter assistants should be able to communicate well as the role includes lots of contact with the public. You should also be able to work well as part of a team.

Training

Trainees are mostly given on-the-job training and many of the larger pharmaceutical companies provide accredited in-house training courses. Details of other accredited courses are available from the Pharmaceutical Society.

There are no formal education requirements.

Career pathway for medicines counter assistants

For those who have gained experience and wish to take on additional responsibility, opportunities to train as a pharmacy technician or a dispensing/ pharmacy assistant may be available.

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