Do you want to pursue a career in science, are you interested in healthcare and would like to help people for a living? Then becoming a pharmacist might just be right up your alley.
If you’ve decided to follow this exciting and – might I add – quite lucrative career path, then you’ve come to the right place. You’ll find all the information you need to start, advance and succeed as a pharmacist in this comprehensive step-by-step guide, plus where to look for suitable opportunities and how much you could potentially earn.
Here’s how to become a pharmacist in the UK.
1. Research the Profession
First things first, before you dive straight into applying to universities, you’ll need to gain a clear and thorough understanding of what exactly the job of a pharmacist entails. Below is an overview of what to expect on the job, what skills you need to possess to succeed in the role, as well as what kind of salary you could potentially earn.
Pharmacists, also known as chemists, are healthcare professionals who are primarily responsible for dispensing medications that have been prescribed by a doctor. They are experts in medicines and their use, and also provide basic health advice to patients on various issues like quitting smoking, for example.
But, there’s much more to their jobs than simply passing boxes of pills over the counter. Their typical day-to-day duties include:
- Advising other healthcare professionals on how to choose medicines and use them correctly
- Ensuring new medicines are safe to use with other medications
- Advising on dosage, risks and potential side effects, as well as suggesting the most appropriate form of medication (eg: tablet, inhaler, injection, etc)
- Ensuring patients use their medicines safely
- Running screening programmes for diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure
- Recommending changes to prescriptions
- Helping patients manage long-term conditions
Essential Skills and Qualities
To succeed in this role, you’ll need to have a high level of the following skills:
- Accuracy and attention to detail
- General clinical awareness
- Communication and interpersonal skills, like listening and a caring and sympathetic manner
- Customer service
- Science and math skills
- IT skills
You’ll also need to have a clear and thorough understanding of the law and the ability to work with different types of people.
Working Hours and Conditions
NHS hospital pharmacists typically work 37.5 hours a week – this includes working on weekends and on a rota. Community pharmacists can work up to 48 hours a week in a retail environment where many pharmacies are open for extended hours, as well as during evenings and public holidays.
The NHS has clearly defined pay bands as part of their Agenda for Change pay structure:
- The starting salary for newly qualified pharmacists starts on Band 6, which ranges between the £26,500 and £35,500 bracket.
- With further study and training, the salary can increase to Band 7 (£31,600–£41,700).
- The salary for senior roles like advanced pharmacists and team manager ranges between £40,400 and £83,200 (Bands 8a to 8d).
- Salaries of £79,400 to £100,400 (Band 9) can be reached in the role of the most senior manager of a pharmaceutical service.
Pre-registration trainees in community pharmacy can expect to start earning between £16,000 to over £20,000. Upon registration, typical salaries range between £20,000 and £25,000. With experience, this can increase to £35,000. At a specialist or management level, you can expect to make as much £68,000 a year. (It’s important to note that salaries for community pharmacists will largely depend on the size of the employer.)
2. Get the Qualifications
If you’ve decided that becoming a pharmacist is indeed the right career for you, the next step you need to take is to complete all the necessary training. Here is an overview of what you need to do to qualify as a pharmacist in the UK.
Education and Training
In order to qualify as a pharmacist, you’ll need to complete a four-year Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).
Entry requirements for pharmacy degree courses vary depending on the institution, but you’ll typically need:
- At least five GCSEs in subjects like English, maths and double science
- At least three A-levels or equivalent at level 3
Some of the best pharmacy schools in the UK include:
- University of Cambridge
- University of Strathclyde
- University College London
- Queen’s University Belfast
- University of Nottingham
If you’ve qualified overseas, you’ll need to undertake the Overseas Pharmacist Assessment Programme (OSPAP), which is a one-year postgraduate diploma.
You’ll then need to successfully complete 52 weeks of pre-registration training, which is a period of paid or unpaid employment at an approved community or hospital pharmacy. During this time, you’ll have to build up evidence of having met the competency standards set by the GPhC.
Finally, you’ll need to get a pass mark (around 70%) in the GPhC registration assessment, which is an exam held twice a year in June and September. The assessment is in two parts: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first part is made up of 40 calculation questions and the second part 120 ‘selected response’ questions.
You’ll also need to meet the GPhC’s Fitness to Practice Standards.
3. Land Your First Job
In this section, you’ll find information about your options working as a pharmacist, typical employers and where to look for suitable opportunities.
Completing a pharmacy degree opens many doors for you, while the skills and knowledge you develop can be transferred to different pharmacy environments and roles. These include:
- Community pharmacy – working from your own pharmacy or out of local healthcare centres and doctor’s surgeries
- Hospital pharmacy – working in the NHS or a private hospital
- Industrial pharmacy – researching, designing, developing and testing new medicines and treatments, and ensuring their safety and quality
- Academia – educating and training pharmacy students, pre-registration trainees, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals
- Clinical academia – working in a hospital or community pharmacy, while undertaking clinical research at the same time
- Military – working in the Navy, Army or Air Forces
- Primary care – working in the local community supporting GPs, nurses, community pharmacists and other healthcare professionals
- Regulatory affairs – ensuring the appropriate licensing, marketing and legal compliance of medicines to ensure their safety and efficacy
- Working in GP practices – consulting and treating patients directly, and working closely with GPs to resolve medical issues
- Working in care homes – providing services to nursing or residential homes for patients who are unable to care for themselves
- Urgent and emergency care – supporting patients with medicines-related issues and common ailments when GP surgeries and other healthcare services are not available
- Veterinary pharmacy – specialising in medicines for the treatment of animals
Most hospital pharmacists work for the NHS, though it is possible to work in the private sector for companies like:
As a community pharmacist, you’ll be able to find work in large retail chains, independent pharmacies like Boots or Superdrug, GP surgeries and health centres.
Whatever you chose to do with your pharmacy degree, the job search process remains the same for all roles.
As almost all vacancies are advertised online these days, you should start your search by exploring all major job boards like Monster and Reed, as well as our very own CareerAddict Jobs. You can also look for vacancies through more specialist sites like:
- NHS Jobs – lists around 25,000 jobs every month in the NHS throughout the UK
- NHS Scotland Recruitment – for vacancies with Scotland’s biggest employer
- Pharmaceutical Journal Jobs – the official Royal Pharmaceutical Society job board
Don’t forget to check company websites for any available vacancies. Meanwhile, if you’re not able to find a suitable and exciting opportunity, why not take matters into your own hands and create the position you want? You can do this by sending a speculative application to your preferred employers.
4. Develop Your Career
What happens next? How can you advance your career in pharmacy?
Undertaking regular continued professional development (CPD) is essential to remain registered with the GPhC, as you need to demonstrate that you’ve remained up-to-date with industry trends. Certain standards are set by the GPhC, which include recording your CPD and making a minimum of nine entries per year for each full year of registration.
You could also take a certificate or diploma in clinical pharmacy, and proceed to an MSc.
There’s a formal career structure within the NHS. As a newly qualified pharmacist, you could start your career by rotating between different services offered by your hospital, including clinical trials, primary care and dispensary services. With experience, you could move onto a Band 7 position where you’ll be able to specialise in a specific area such as cardiology, haematology or quality assurance.
You could also take on the role of a tutor where you will lecture pre-registration trainees, provide support to undergraduate pharmacy students and deliver presentations to other medical staff.
In community pharmacy, for example: working for a major chain, you could move up the ranks with experience, where you will typically be given more responsibilities. Alternatively, you could choose to work in a GP surgery or go on to start your own business. You may also be able to move into careers in other sectors like publishing, research, recruitment and training.
On a final note, make sure you keep your CV constantly updated – you never know when the next exciting career opportunity will present itself to you.
Are you currently considering a career in pharmacy or on your way to becoming one? Perhaps you’ve already completed the journey and would like to impart your wisdom with your future colleagues? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us.
This article was originally published in February 2014.