You'll need an accredited Masters degree in pharmacy, a year's pre-registration training and the skills and knowledge to pass a registration assessment to work as a community pharmacist

As a community pharmacist you're responsible for dispensing and distributing medicine. You'll work to legal and ethical guidelines to ensure the correct and safe supply of medical products to the general public.

This is a customer-facing role and you'll be involved in maintaining and improving people's health by providing advice and information, as well as supplying prescription medicines. You'll also sell over-the-counter medical products and instruct patients on the use of medicines and medical appliances.

Community pharmacists work in high street pharmacies, supermarkets, local healthcare centres and GP surgeries.

Responsibilities

Community pharmacists provide an increasing range of services and, depending on your role and experience, you'll need to:

  • dispense prescription medicines to the public
  • ensure that different treatments are compatible
  • check dosage and ensure that medicines are correctly and safely supplied and labelled (pharmacists are legally responsible for any dispensing errors)
  • supervise the preparation of any medicines (not all are supplied ready made-up by the manufacturer)
  • keep a register of controlled drugs for legal and stock control purposes
  • liaise with doctors about prescriptions
  • sell over-the-counter medicines
  • advise the public on the treatment of minor ailments
  • advise patients of any adverse side-effects of medicines or potential interactions with other medicines/treatments
  • prepare dosette and cassette boxes, usually for the elderly, but also for those with memory/learning difficulties or who have several combinations of tablets to take, where tablets are placed in compartments for specified days of the week
  • undertake Medicine Use Reviews (MUR), an advanced service to help patients understand how their medicines work and why they have to take them
  • provide support through the New Medicine Service (NMS) to patients starting certain medicines to treat long-term conditions (England only)
  • manage a needle and syringe exchange
  • measure and fit compression hosiery
  • offer specialist health checks, such as blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring and diabetes screening
  • run stop-smoking clinics and weight-reduction programmes
  • arrange the delivery of prescription medicines to patients
  • manage, supervise and train pharmacy support staff
  • manage finance and budgets
  • keep up to date with current pharmacy practice, new drugs and their uses.

NHS choices provides a list of the pharmacy services a community pharmacist can provide.

Salary

  • Salaries for pre-registration trainees can range from around £16,000 to over £20,000.
  • Typical starting salaries for community pharmacists are in the region of £20,000 to £25,000, depending on your location and conditions of employment. Small chains and independent pharmacies may pay less.
  • With experience, your salary can rise to around £35,000, and at a specialist or management level, it can reach £40,000 to £68,000.

Locum pharmacists are usually paid by the hour. Locums can negotiate rates, including higher pay for weekend and holiday work.

Bonuses linked to the performance of the business may be paid by some larger employers.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours may include unsocial hours in a shop environment. Many pharmacies are open for extended hours, during evenings and weekends. Most employers operate a rota system.

There are opportunities for part-time work, job-share and locum work.

What to expect

  • If you're based in a large pharmacy, you'll work in a team with others including pharmacy technicians and sales assistants.
  • You will have direct contact with the public and may go into the community to visit house-bound patients.
  • Jobs are available in all towns and cities. There are fewer opportunities in rural locations.
  • The work carries a high level of responsibility and demands a professional attitude to work.
  • You won't usually need to travel or spend time away overnight. Overseas work is uncommon.

Qualifications

To qualify as a pharmacist you must:

  • complete a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)-accredited Masters degree in pharmacy (MPharm)
  • complete a period of one year pre-registration training in a community pharmacy, which covers key competencies in areas such as medicines and health, personal effectiveness and interpersonal skills
  • pass the GPhC registration assessment
  • meet the GPhC fitness to practise requirements for registration as a pharmacist.

You will then be eligible to apply for registration with the GPhC, which is essential to practise as a pharmacist in England, Wales and Scotland. Pharmacists in Northern Ireland must register with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

MPharm degree courses are full time and take four years to complete. Some universities, however, offer a five-year integrated MPharm degree, which incorporates the year of pre-registration training. See the full list of GPhC accredited MPharm degrees.

If you don't have the required qualifications to get a place on an accredited MPharm degree, you can take a pharmacy foundation degree, which is a two-year full-time course that includes the content of year one of the MPharm degree plus work placements. This should provide you with the knowledge and experience to get a place on an MPharm degree directly into year two.

If you don't have an accredited pharmacy degree, you can work as a pharmacy technician under the supervision of a pharmacist. Training is usually at NVQ (SVQ in Scotland) level 3. However, this role does not allow progression to community pharmacist.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent communication skills as you must listen carefully to what patients say, as well as explain complex and sometimes sensitive information to the general public and other healthcare professionals
  • the ability to work with others in a multidisciplinary team, as well as to lead others in a team
  • concern for the welfare of the general public
  • accuracy and meticulous attention to detail
  • a methodical approach to work
  • an understanding of business principles
  • a professional and confident manner
  • the ability to inspire the trust of others
  • a willingness to take on a high level of responsibility.

Work experience

Try to get work experience that will enhance your knowledge and develop skills in working with the public, particularly in a retail environment.

Consider becoming a student member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. This provides access to resources, networking opportunities and support throughout your studies.

In order to complete your year of pre-registration training in a community pharmacy, you'll need to spend at least 52 weeks in an approved training site under the supervision of a tutor. The GPhC website has a list of approved training premises and vacancies are advertised in the Pharmaceutical Journal and Chemist and Druggist magazines.

The pharmacist pre-registration scheme in Scotland is managed by NHS Education for Scotland.

Employers

The majority of community pharmacists in the UK work in large, multiple retail chains or independent pharmacies of various sizes. The remainder are employed by small or medium-sized chain stores, GP surgeries or health centres.

Typical employers include supermarket chains and leading high-street pharmacies.

Some pharmacists set up their own business. The advantages of self-employment include professional independence and personal satisfaction.

Look for job vacancies at:

  • C+D Jobs - pharmacist jobs and pre-registration trainee placements.
  • Pharmaceutical Journal Jobs - pharmacist jobs and pre-registration trainee placements.
  • Careers service vacancy lists.

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies. These include:

Professional development

To remain registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), you must undertake regular continuing professional development (CPD) to show you're up to date with the constantly-changing and evolving profession.

Certain standards are set by the GPhC, which include recording your CPD and making at least nine entries a year that reflect the context and scope of your work as a pharmacist.

Many employers provide well-structured, intensive training programmes of varying length. All aim to provide new entrants with a broad overview of the company and offer the chance to gain experience in various retailing areas. As well as pharmacy-related training, you'll receive training in:

  • communication skills
  • team work
  • problem solving
  • decision making
  • negotiation and influencing.

You need to keep abreast of developments in drug research including new drugs on the market, new ways of treating conditions with drugs and the government policy on drug treatment. This will involve reading professional journals and publications and attending courses and training sessions throughout your career.

Membership of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society provides access to relevant resources, events, mentoring services, professional networks, webinars and CPD support.

You can choose to undertake further postgraduate training, such as a clinical diploma, to develop your knowledge and skills. There are a range of continuing education and postgraduate courses available in various aspects of community practice.

Career prospects

Promotion will usually involve management of specific service areas, such as managing staff other than pharmacists, including accuracy checking pharmacy technicians and sales assistants.

If you're working for a major chain of pharmacies, there may be opportunities to progress to branch and then district manager roles. At the most senior level you could be working as a pharmacy superintendent, influencing the running of the business and contributing to overall strategy, with responsibility for many pharmacists. There are also opportunities to move into management roles in areas such as business or professional development.

An increasing number of pharmacists work in GP surgeries and health centres. This involves advising on the best use of medicines, working as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, and having a lot of patient contact.

With lots of experience, you may choose to set up your own business. You'll need good business skills to take on responsibility for:

  • accounting procedures
  • staff recruitment and training
  • negotiating and influencing
  • marketing.

It's also possible to move into careers in scientific writing, research, publishing and consultancy, including recruitment and training. Complementary medicine and animal medicine are other options.