A career as a pharmacist is a highly responsible one that requires a considerable amount of application and learning. All Pharmacists in the UK have degrees in Pharmacy recognised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
. For those considering a career in research, a postgraduate qualification will be expected in addition to a degree. The majority of Pharmacists are registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and such registration can only be achieved after a year of supervised work under a Society recognised Pharmacist.
A successful pharmacist requires a combination of skills unique to the role. A high level of scientific ability is a pre-cursor to any role, as mentioned above, in addition to proficiency in mathematics. But the Pharmacist also has a considerable level of direct contact with the general public, both as the dispenser of medicines and, increasingly, as a source of advice. Good communication skills are vital to put across to people from all walks of life the obligations involved in taking certain kinds of medicines. In addition to dealing with the general public the pharmacist will also deal with GPs on a regular basis and must be able to keep them abreast of patients concerns that might not necessarily be expressed to the doctor, monitoring prescriptions is a key aspect of the pharmacists role. The pharmacist must also, of course, be able to decipher the doctor’s often enigmatic prescription writing. Medical Sales Representatives are also increasingly targeting pharmacists as government campaigns (‘Ask your pharmacist’) to involve the pharmacist more closely with the dispensing of medical advice begin to take effect in the population at large. This can only increase with the inevitable advent of DTC advertising, where the consumer will be bombarded with information about medicines and will need a reliable source of advice. The pharmacist is perhaps the most accessible healthcare professional, especially as no appointment is required.
Acceptance to a pharmacy degree course usually requires 3 A-levels or equivalent, one of which must be Chemistry and another which must be in an approved scientific or mathematical field. The Pharmacy degree course is most often a broadly integrated scientific course with emphasis in four key areas; sources and chemistry of drugs, dosage form design and manufacture, the scientific basis of therapeutics and pharmacy practice. Courses are usually four years long with three years of academic study and a year of training in practice under the direct supervision of a pharmacist.
There are three main areas in which a pharmacist will work;
This is the best known role of the pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions in stores like Boots, Moss, Lloyds or the big supermarket pharmacies. This is the most public facing of pharmacy roles and there will be additional responsibility on the pharmacist to ensure security of stock as the drug stocks of retail pharmacies are attractive targets for criminals. There has been increased pressure on the independent retail pharmacist in recent years with the growth in number of supermarket pharmacies and internet dispensing sites. The abolition of Resale Price Maintenance in the UK has placed increasing pressure on independent pharmacies but despite this the prospect of owning and running your own pharmacy is an attractive one.
Hospital pharmacists provide a similar service to retail pharmacists but in a hospital environment. Drugs will be distributed to patients by nurses or occasionally by the pharmacist themselves and so the same type of communication skills are required as those of community pharmacists. However the range of drugs dispensed by a hospital pharmacist is considerably wider than in the retail role and with the pressure of funding that exists on the NHS there is more involvement with generic drugs. The Hospital Pharmacist will also be a source of information about new drugs and medicines to the medical staff within the hospital. Many hospitals also provide extensive training to pharmacists and offer the chance to study for higher level degrees or diplomas.
Industrial and Research Pharmacists
Research Pharmacists are usually employed in the research departments of major ethical pharmaceutical companies. Their role is to rigorously test and research newly discovered compounds for efficacy and safety. Working in the pharmaceutical industry in a research activity can be lucrative but there is considerable pressure on companies to have a constant stream of new drugs ready to take to market and this pressure can translate to the research departments.
Skilled scientific roles like that of the pharmacist are in high demand. Opportunities exist in retailing countrywide and also in academic positions from Universities to schools. There is also considerable opportunity to work abroad. Reciprocal registration within the European Community allows qualified pharmacists to work in any EU country, and the same goes for parts of North America and many Commonwealth countries. Pharmacists are in high demand in the US and Australasia and many newly qualified pharmacists take the opportunity to live abroad early in their careers. Career paths are excellent in hospitals and Pharmaceutical companies with a wide variety of roles open to the pharmacist, especially in the latter, from Medical Sales through to Clinical Research. Finally there is the opportunity to work for yourself owning your own retail pharmacy, either alone, as a partner or as a franchisee. Pharmacy is an excellent career choice for the capable scientist, with good pay, excellent prospects and very little unemployment.
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