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Becoming A Pharmacist: An Introductory Guide

As medicine experts in the healthcare system, pharmacists play a significant role in ensuring patients receive the right medications. They also quality control products, making sure they sit within the law, as well as providing advice to people regarding their treatment.

Going down the path of pharmacy yourself will allow you to combine your love of science with a desire to help improve the lives of patients. Working in this landscape is especially ideal for those who are interested in medicine but are unconvinced that being a doctor is the right fit for them.

If this sounds like a route you want to take, read on to find out more about the working conditions, salary, and how to kickstart your career in medicine.

Why become a pharmacist?

While learning and training for medicine-based roles is no picnic, working as a pharmacist can be incredibly rewarding.

Lots of opportunities

There are plenty of diverse opportunities, with three main areas you can work in:

Hospital pharmacies —you’ll be responsible for ordering, quality testing, storing, and security of drugs and medicine in hospitals.

Retail community pharmacies — this involves supplying prescribed and over-the-counter medications to the general public and giving advice to patients regarding treatment.

Industrial pharmacists — in working for pharmaceutical companies, you can help manufacture and discover safe and effective new drugs.

Good working conditions

Most pharmacists work 37 to 40 hours a week on a shift basis, including evenings, weekends, and bank holidays. They spend most of their shifts on their feet, work in clean, well-lit, and ventilated spaces, and often have to wear protective clothing when working with sterile or potentially dangerous pharmaceutical products.

Day-to-day, pharmacists collaborate with a wider team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and scientists to ensure care is accurate and effective.

A high salary

If you’re employed by the NHS, it’s likely you will start on Band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale. This system covers all members of staff within the healthcare setting besides doctors, dentists, and senior managers. As you progress in your career and become more experienced, your salary will increase.

Starting out as a pharmacist with under two years of experience, you can expect to receive around £32,000. If you have between two to five years of experience, this rises to around £34,000 on average, and for those with more than five years in the industry, the salary might be roughly £39,000. Typically, income ranges between £32,000 to £45,000, depending on experience.

As well as a high salary, you should also get at least 27 days annual leave plus bank holidays a year (NHS roles), which will increase after five years’ service, as well as a pension scheme.

How to become a pharmacist

To become a pharmacist in England and Wales, you will need to complete a five-year program of academic and practice-based education, which includes an MPharm Degree for four years and one year’s pre-registration training.

Earn your degree

The five-year degree program of study is a combination of academic learning and clinical-based practice. After your first four years, you can then earn a Master’s Degree in Pharmacy. This will need to be approved by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). You must also pass the GPhC registration assessment after you completed your one year’s pre-registration training and meet the GPhC fitness to practice requirements.

University entry requirements

You must meet the entry requirements to enroll in a relevant course at the university. Each institution will have different criteria for admission so it’s best to check the website of your chosen university. Generally, though, the following will help you when applying:

Most universities offering a pharmacist degree ask for a minimum of five GCSE qualifications, including English language, one science, and mathematics.

At least three A-levels, or equivalent subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, and a second science.

Vocational qualifications include BTEC Level 3, the Access to Higher Education Diploma, or the National Extended Diploma in Applied Sciences.

An A-level in chemistry is an essential component of your medical education as it provides students with a basic understanding of the science of chemical reactions behind medicine. This includes topics such as intermolecular forces, acids and bases, and oxidation-reduction. If you’re feeling the pressure of A-levels, there are plenty of courses you can take to help boost your chemistry knowledge. PMT Education, for example, offers multiple types of courses throughout the

academic year. These are tailored to the specific exam boards (AQA, OCR, and Edexcel) and the tutors’ “expert knowledge and fresh teaching approach will help everything click into place.”

If you don’t have the qualifications for a pharmacy degree, you could do a two-year Pharmacy foundation. This can lead to working as a pharmacy assistant or technician, and you can then apply for your master’s degree in your second year.

Gain work experience

Alongside your degree, you’ll benefit from a year to help you gain further knowledge and experience in your chosen field. This is often called a foundation training year (which is different from a foundation degree) and your university can assist you with making arrangements for this. You can use this opportunity to secure your own work experience by observing pharmacies, GP practices, and hospitals.

Obtain other must-have skills

Like any role, each job requires a set of essential skills for the individual to carry out their responsibilities. To become a pharmacist, you must have flawless observational skills, excellent communication, strong numeracy, analytical and problem-solving abilities, and more.

Now you should have a better understanding of the pharmacy role and the steps you need to take to become a pharmacist. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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