A community pharmacist is responsible for dispensing and distributing medicine. They work to legal and ethical guidelines to ensure the correct and safe supply of medical products to the general public.

Community pharmacists work in high street pharmacies, supermarkets, local healthcare centres and GP surgeries. They are involved in maintaining and improving people's health by providing advice and information, as well as supplying prescription medicines.

Community pharmacists also sell over-the-counter medical products and instruct patients on the use of medicines and medical appliances.

Some pharmacists will offer specialist health checks, such as blood pressure monitoring and diabetes screening, and run stop-smoking clinics and weight-reduction programmes.

Responsibilities

Community pharmacists work in customer-facing roles and provide an increasing range of services. Their tasks involve:

  • dispensing prescription medicines to the public;
  • ensuring that different treatments are compatible;
  • checking dosage and ensuring that medicines are correctly and safely supplied and labelled (pharmacists are legally responsible for any dispensing errors);
  • supervising the preparation of any medicines (not all are supplied ready made-up by the manufacturer);
  • keeping a register of controlled drugs for legal and stock control purposes;
  • liaising with doctors about prescriptions;
  • selling over-the-counter medicines;
  • counselling and advising the public on the treatment of minor ailments;
  • advising patients of any adverse side-effects of medicines or potential interactions with other medicines/treatments;
  • preparing 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;
  • undertaking Medicine Use Reviews (MUR), an advanced service to help patients understand how their medicines work and why they have to take them;
  • managing a needle and syringe exchange;
  • measuring and fitting compression hosiery;
  • monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels;
  • offering a diabetes screening service;
  • arranging the delivery of prescription medicines to patients;
  • managing, supervising and training pharmacy support staff;
  • budgeting and financial management;
  • keeping up to date with current pharmacy practice, new drugs and their uses.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries for community pharmacists are in the region of £20,000 to £25,000, depending on location and conditions of employment, with small chains and independent pharmacies often paying lower.
  • With experience, salaries rise to around £35,000 and at a specialist or management level, they may 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.

Location bonuses are paid to encourage pharmacists to work in areas where there is a recruitment problem.

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, e.g. during evenings and weekends.

Most employers operate a rota system.

There is excellent potential for flexible working, i.e. part-time work, career breaks, locum work and job-share.

What to expect

  • If working in a large pharmacy, a pharmacist will work in a team with others including technicians, pharmacy technicians and sales assistants.
  • Pharmacists 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 highly professional attitude to work.
  • Travel within a working day is occasional.
  • Absence from home overnight and overseas work is uncommon.

Qualifications

To qualify as a pharmacist you need to:

  • successfully complete a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) accredited Masters degree in pharmacy (MPharm), which is a full-time four-year course;
  • 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 a GPhC registration exam.

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

Currently, there are 26 universities across the UK which are accredited by the GPhC to offer the necessary MPharm degree.

A further three universities are working towards accreditation and details of all of them can be found at GPhC: Accredited MPharm Degrees.

Entry to the profession without a pharmacy degree, or with a HND only, is not possible. Work as a pharmacy technician (usually trained to NVQ level 3) will give experience of the work environment but will not allow progression to community pharmacist.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • good communication skills as you must be able to listen carefully to what patients say, as well as be able to 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 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.

As part of the registration process with the GPhC, you will also need to meet fitness-to-practise requirements and make a health declaration.

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.

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

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:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies. These include:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

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

Certain standards are set by the GPhC, which include recording your CPD in a certain format 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 will receive training in:

  • communication skills;
  • teamwork;
  • 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.

Access to relevant resources, events, mentoring services, professional networks, webinars and CPD support is granted by becoming a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

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

It is possible to move between the different branches of pharmacy, so you may want to consider working in a hospital setting or as an industrial pharmacist.

An increasing number of pharmacists are working in GP surgeries and health centres. This involves advising on the best use of medicines, working as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, becoming involved in the work of a primary healthcare trust (or the equivalent in Scotland or Wales) and a lot of patient contact.

With substantial experience, you may choose to set up your own business. This requires a degree of business acumen and involves responsibility for:

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

It is also possible to move into careers in scientific writing, publishing and consultancy including recruitment and training. Complementary medicine and animal medicine are expanding areas in pharmacy.