The Job and What's Involved

Pharmacists are experts in medicines and their use. They are concerned with the development of medicines, their preparation, dispensing and eventual use. There are four main areas of work:

- Community pharmacy
- Primary care pharmacy
- Hospital pharmacy
- Industrial pharmacy

Community pharmacists sell and supply medicines. The majority work in retail outlets and some are employed by health centres or surgeries. Pharmacists handle large numbers of prescriptions and it is their responsibility to check every one. They:

  • Check that prescriptions from doctors are valid and that the medicines prescribed are safe for patients.
  • Advise people on managing minor ailments.
  • Dispense prescription-only medicines prescribed by doctors.
  • Sell other pharmacy medicines over the counter.
  • Sell general medicines to the public.
  • Advise people how to use medicines effectively.
  • Store medicines properly and securely.
  • Advise people about health matters.
  • Keep computer records.
  • Offer basic healthcare checks such as blood pressure monitoring.
  • Provide specialist services such as surgical support equipment.
  • Supervise and train staff.

In an NHS Primary Care Trust (or local health board in Wales and Scotland) the pharmacist may have a lead role for all issues related to medicines management and prescribing. This may include ensuring evidence-based prescribing practice, financial management for prescribing allocations, or budgets. Education and training of prescribers and other healthcare professionals, such as smoking cessation co-ordinators, may also be a function of this role.

Hospital pharmacists work to ensure that patients get the most appropriate medicines. Some manage production units in hospitals and a few are employed in quality assurance to ensure that medicines used in hospitals are satisfactory. They:

  • Visit patients on hospital wards.
  • Monitor the response of patients to medication.
  • Advise doctors and nurses on the best drugs for patients.
  • Supervise pharmacy technicians who dispense medicines.
  • Order some medicines and make others.
  • Provide a medicine information service to district medical staff and patients.
  • Keep a formulary (a list of the hospital's drugs that can be prescribed).
  • Test the quality of medicines.
  • Store medicines properly and securely.
  • Visit nursing homes and local health clinics to advise staff on storing and distributing medicines.

Industrial pharmacists are employed by pharmaceutical companies and veterinary product manufacturers and might be involved in:

  • Researching and developing new drugs.
  • Clinical trials of drugs.
  • Quality control.
  • Making sterile medicines.
  • Legal and licensing issues.

Pharmacists have to keep records in all areas of their work. They must also make sure that the strict laws controlling medicines are followed.

Working hours of pharmacists depend on the type of work in which they are involved:

Community pharmacists usually work 39 hours a week, which may include evening and weekend work on a rota.

Hospital pharmacists usually work 37.5 hours a week, are likely to be on a rota for weekend work and to be on call at other times.

Pharmacists working in an NHS Primary Care Trust (or local health board in Wales and Scotland) and industrial pharmacists usually work 9.00am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

About one third of all pharmacists work part time.

Depending on the type of work, pharmacists might work in a shop, hospital or laboratory. They may need to travel locally to visit patients, nursing homes, health centres or clinics. Pharmacists acting as locums (temporary stand-ins) may have to travel considerable distances to and from work.

Starting pay may be around £26,000 for industrial pharmacists, at least £24,103 for newly- qualified pharmacists in NHS hospitals and around £26,000 a year for community pharmacists.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Pharmacists work throughout the UK. There are currently around 40,000 practicing pharmacists registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

About 24,500 pharmacists work in community pharmacies. They work for large multiple retail chains, supermarkets, independent pharmacies, GP surgeries or health centres. Over a quarter of those in community pharmacy work as locums.

Around 7,500 pharmacists work in hospitals. Most are employed by the NHS. Locums are sometimes used.

About 2,000 pharmacists work for private companies in the pharmaceutical industry.

There are other pharmacists in pharmacy-related work. They include people working for health authorities, teaching pharmacy, writing about pharmacy matters and working in prisons, the Civil Service, agriculture and veterinary pharmacy.

Some pharmacists combine work in different environments, for example teaching at a university while working in retail, at a hospital or in industry.

Although the number of pharmacists has grown steadily over the past few years, there is a shortage, particularly in hospitals.

Vacancies for pharmacists are advertised in national and local newspapers, The Pharmaceutical Journal, Chemist and Druggist, New Scientist and on websites such as Some pharmacists use specialist agencies to find locum work.

Education and Training

To become a pharmacist applicants need a degree in pharmacy leading to the qualification M.Pharm. There are 25 schools of pharmacy approved by the RPSGB offering four-year full-time courses.

Entry requirements for a pharmacy degree are usually three A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. The GCSE's should include English, maths and science. A levels should include chemistry and one other science subject (preferably biology).

Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

Featured Job Guide - Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


A Few More Exams You Might Need

After completing their pharmacy degree, graduates must spend a pre-registration year in practical training in a community or hospital pharmacy. They must then pass a registration exam. Only then are they qualified as pharmacists. The University of Bradford offers the option of a five-year sandwich degree course that includes the pre-registration year.

Some qualified pharmacists study for a postgraduate qualification. This can be helpful for people who want to move into industrial or lecturing work. Courses usually last one year full time or two to four years part time.

All pharmacists must keep up to date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This includes reviewing personal professional practice, reading professional journals and publications and attending courses and training sessions.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A pharmacist should:

  • Be good at science.
  • Be accurate and methodical.
  • Have good interpersonal skills.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be willing to accept responsibility.
  • Be able to supervise others.
  • Be comfortable using a computer.
  • Have good business skills for community pharmacy.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progression routes vary between the different areas of work.

In community pharmacy, pharmacists who work for a large firm may progress into management. With experience and the necessary funds, they may buy their own community pharmacy business. Some may own several pharmacies.

Hospital pharmacists may progress through an established career structure up to consultant grade. They may specialise in areas such as clinical pharmacy or enter management.

In industrial pharmacy, progression is to more senior and supervisory roles. As pharmacists progress they are likely to specialise in specific areas.

It is possible to move between the different areas of pharmacy. Pharmacists can also work abroad.

Get Further Information

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB),
1 Lambeth High Street, London SE1 7JN
Tel: 020 7735 9141

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources