Community pharmacists work to legal and ethical guidelines to ensure the correct and safe supply of medical products to the general public
As a community pharmacist you'll be responsible for dispensing and supplying prescription medicines. You'll also be involved in maintaining and improving people's health by providing advice and information.
You'll also sell over-the-counter medical products and instruct people on the use of medicines and medical appliances.
You will usually be based in high street pharmacies either in large, medium-sized or small chain stores or in independent pharmacies of various sizes. Alternatively, you might work in a doctor's practice or health centre.
As a community pharmacist, 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
- 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 boxes, usually for the elderly, but also for those with memory/learning difficulties or those 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
- provide the range of services listed on the NHS website.
- Salaries for pre-registration trainees can range from £16,000 to over £20,000.
- Typical starting salaries for qualified community pharmacists are in the region of £30,000 to £35,000, depending on the size of your employer, location and conditions of employment. Small chains and independent pharmacies may pay less.
- With experience, your salary can rise to around £45,000, and at a specialist or management level it can reach £50,000 to £70,000. You can also go on to become a superintendent pharmacist or explore the range of career options that larger community pharmacy organisations have outside of traditional pharmacy settings (e.g. in head offices, operations or distribution).
Locum pharmacists are usually paid by the hour. Locums can negotiate rates, including higher pay for weekend and holiday work. According to the C+D Salary Survey 2020, the average hourly rate for locum pharmacists is around £22.34, although this varies depending on the region you work in.
Bonuses linked to the performance of the business may be paid by some larger employers.
Figures are intended as a guide only.
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'll 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.
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 paid pre-registration training in a GPhC-approved community pharmacy, under supervision
- pass the GPhC registration assessment
- meet the GPhC fitness to practise requirements for registration as a pharmacist.
You'll then be eligible to apply for registration with the GPhC, which is essential to practise as a pharmacist in England, Wales and Scotland. Pharmacists who want to practise 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 - 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.
During your pre-registration year, you must build up a portfolio of evidence to show that you have the required skills and knowledge to work as a pharmacist. For more information, see the GPhC Pre-registration Manual.
Consider becoming a student member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. This provides access to resources, networking opportunities and support throughout your studies.
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 level 3 and you must register with the GPhC. You can also take a Level 3 Pharmacy Technician Apprenticeship. This role does not allow progression to community pharmacist.
You'll need to show:
- excellent communication skills - 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 high level of customer service
- a professional and confident manner
- the ability to inspire the trust of others
- that you understand and can apply the law in terms of the storage and dispensing of medicines
- a willingness to take on a high level of responsibility.
Course providers look for evidence that you're committed to becoming a pharmacist. You can show this by job shadowing a community pharmacist, or talking to your local pharmacist about the role. It may also be possible to get part-time work within a pharmacy to get a feel for the working environment.
Work experience that develops your skills in working with the public, particularly in a retail environment, is also useful.
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.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The majority of community pharmacists work in high street pharmacies, in large, multiple retail chains or supermarkets, or independent pharmacies of various sizes. The remainder are employed by small or medium-sized chain stores, GP surgeries or health centres.
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 websites
- websites of major community pharmacies.
Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies. These include:
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 skills such as communication, problem solving and decision making.
Once qualified, you'll need to renew your registration with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) annually. To remain registered you must undertake regular continuing professional development (CPD) to show you're keeping your skills and knowledge up to date.
You must 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.
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.
Some 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. 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.