Pharmacy Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Pharmacy technicians prepare, supply and dispense a wide variety of medicines and products prescribed for patients. Their work is always conducted under the supervision of a registered pharmacist.

Community pharmacy technicians work in a retail environment. Their duties include:

  • Assembling, dispensing and labelling medicines accurately for prescriptions issued by doctors, nurses or dentists.
  • Advising customers on how to take a course of medicine.
  • Maintaining patient medication records on a computer.
  • Selling over-the-counter medicines and other products.
  • Advising customers about general health issues.
  • Checking pharmacy stock levels and placing orders via computer systems.
  • Helping with the supply of medicines to nursing homes.

The work of hospital pharmacy technicians is similar to that of community pharmacy technicians, although they normally dispense drugs and medicines prescribed by doctors to in-patients and outpatients. Additional activities may include:

  • Calculating doses and quantities of medicines required.
  • Issuing stock supplies of medicines to wards and hospital departments.
  • Making up individual and batch medicines, nutrition substitutes and pharmaceutical intravenous medicines for very ill patients.
  • Conducting quality checks on manufactured medicines, including advising nurses on correct storage, checking expiry dates and discussing the changing needs of wards.
  • Purchasing medicines from pharmaceutical companies and wholesalers.

Some have a clinical pharmacy technician role. This involves working on wards and liaising with other healthcare professionals. They have close contact with patients, discussing and checking their medicines, and advising them on the safe and efficient use of medicines.

Experienced pharmacy technicians, after taking an accredited course, conduct checks on the accuracy of medicines dispensed by others.

Pharmaceutical industry pharmacy technicians work in commercial laboratories. They carry out tests and record the results. Some also act as sales representatives, visiting surgeries and retail outlets to promote products and collect orders.

The hours of work depend on the sector in which a pharmacy technician works:

Community Pharmacies tend to open Monday to Saturday, between 9am and 6pm. Some open until late into the evening and on Sunday. Community pharmacy technicians usually work 39 hours a week, which may include evening and weekend work on a rota basis.

Hospital Pharmacy Technicians usually work 37.5 hours a week, normally from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They are likely to be on a rota for evening, weekend and bank holiday work.

Industrial Pharmacy Technicians usually work 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Many pharmacy technicians work part time.

Community pharmacy technicians work in retail dispensaries, which are usually separated from the main shop floor. Hospital pharmacy technicians work in hospital pharmacies and small, sterile rooms. Some visit patients on the wards. Industrial pharmacy technicians are usually based in sterile factories or laboratories. Those who work as sales representatives visit doctors' surgeries and community pharmacies.

Sterile clothing, including gloves and a gown, are provided as uniform in hospital and industrial settings.

Hospital and community pharmacy technicians may be required to make occasional deliveries of medicine supplies to patients' homes, health centres, clinics and nursing homes. Those acting as locums (working temporarily as stand-ins) may have to travel considerable distances to and from work.

A driving licence may be useful.

Trainee pharmacy technicians in the NHS start on at least £17,316 a year. There are no set salary scales for pharmacy technicians in the private sector, but they are broadly in line with NHS rates. They may receive additional payments for shift work and overtime. Salaries in and around London may be higher.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

It is estimated that there are around 16,000 pharmacy technicians working throughout the UK, with just over 7,000 registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). Pharmacy technicians are employed in:

  • Community pharmacies, including large retail chains, supermarkets, independent pharmacies, GP surgeries and health centres. Some community pharmacy technicians work as locums.
  • NHS and private hospitals, with some working as locums.
  • The pharmaceutical industry.
  • Primary Care Trusts, the Prison Service, the Armed Forces and other organisations, such as hospices.

Vacancies may be advertised in local media, at Jobcentre Plus offices or on their website www.jobseekers.direct.gov.uk, Connexions centres and in The Pharmaceutical Journal (www.pjonline.com) and Chemist+Druggist (www.chemistanddruggist.co.uk). They are also advertised on the NHS Jobs website, www.jobs.nhs.uk. Associated bodies also publish training opportunities and jobs.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications to be a pharmacy technician. In practice, employers often ask for at least four GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and at least one science subject.

Pharmacy technician training is vocational, meaning entrants need to obtain a trainee post at either a hospital or community pharmacy. Once in the post they work under the supervision of a pharmacist, training on the job and studying part time for an NVQ level 3 in pharmacy services. There may be opportunities to enter work through special training programmes, such as an Advanced Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Pharmacy technicians with the appropriate qualifications and work experience can apply to register with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB). Registration of pharmacy technicians is currently voluntary, but is expected to become compulsory in 2011. To join the register, you need the following.

An NVQ level 3 in pharmacy services. The training involves both practical experience and study at a college or by open learning. It usually takes about two years to complete.

At least two years' work experience as a pharmacy technician or student pharmacy technician, under the supervision of a registered pharmacist.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A pharmacy technician should:

  • Have some science ability.
  • Be good with figures and calculations.
  • Have the ability to work carefully and methodically.
  • Be able to concentrate and pay attention to detail.
  • Be capable of keeping records accurately.
  • Have a friendly, patient and sympathetic manner.
  • Be able to deal tactfully with confidential information.
  • Know when to refer a patient to a pharmacist or other healthcare professional.
  • Be good at explaining information clearly.
  • Be able to work well as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Community pharmacy technicians may become accredited checking technicians or supervisors of a team. They may move into a retail management role.

In the hospital service, there are five grades for qualified pharmacy technicians. Senior pharmacy technicians specialise in areas like analytical control, which involves checking the quality of hospital medicines. They may also prepare radioactive materials, oversee staff training, or specialist in pharmaceutical supplies and orders, clinical trials or drug information services.

Clinical pharmacy technician is an expanding role in the hospital service. It involves working on wards, liaising with other healthcare professionals and having closer contact with patients. Chief pharmacy technicians are often responsible for managing a section of the pharmacy department.

Pharmacy technicians working in industry, may move into research and development, clinical trials for new products, quality assurance, production, training or management.

Those wishing to become pharmacists must first complete an appropriate pharmacy degree.

Get Further Information

The Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK,
4th Floor, 1 Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9AJ
Tel: 020 7551 1551
Website: www.aptuk.org

National Pharmacy Association,
Mallinson House, 38-42 St.Peter's Street,
St. Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 3NP
Tel: 01727 832161
Website: www.npa.co.uk

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Tel: Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk, www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk and for graduates and undergraduates www.whatcanidowithmydegree.nhs.uk

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

Skills for Health,
2nd Floor, Goldsmiths House,
Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

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