If you have a scientific mind and would enjoy working with the public as well as health professionals, this could be the job for you

Hospital pharmacists are experts in the field of medicines, how they're used and their effect on the human body. As well as being responsible for dispensing prescriptions, pharmacists are involved in the purchasing and quality testing of medicines. They may also manufacture medicines, as in some cases treatments need to be tailor made for individual patients.

You'll work closely with medical and nursing staff to make sure hospital patients receive the best treatment, advising on the selection, dose and type of administration. You'll also provide help and advice to patients in all aspects of their medicines.

While most hospital pharmacists are based within NHS or private hospitals, the role can extend beyond this with responsibility for medicines in health centres, nursing homes, hospices and general practitioners' (GP) surgeries.

Responsibilities

As a hospital pharmacist, you'll need to:

  • check prescriptions to make sure there are no errors and that they're appropriate and safe for the individual patient;
  • provide advice on the dosage of medicines and the most appropriate form of medication, for example, tablet, injection, ointment or inhaler;
  • participate in ward rounds to take patient drug histories;
  • liaise with other medical staff on problems patients may experience when taking their medicines;
  • discuss treatments with patients' relatives, community pharmacists and GPs;
  • make sure medicines are stored appropriately and securely;
  • supervise the work of less experienced and less qualified staff;
  • answer questions about medicines from within the hospital, other hospitals and the general public;
  • keep up to date with, and contribute to, research and development;
  • write guidelines for drug use within the hospital and implement hospital regulations;
  • provide information on expenditure on drugs;
  • prepare and quality-check sterile medications, for example, intravenous medications;
  • set up and supervise clinical trials.

When you have substantial experience, you may be involved in teaching, both within the pharmacy department and in other areas of the hospital.

Salary

  • Within the NHS, the Agenda for Change pay structure has clearly defined pay bands. Newly qualified pharmacists usually start on Band 6, which ranges from £26,041 to £34,876.
  • With further study and training, it is possible to progress to Band 7 where salaries are set at £31,072 to £40,964.
  • Roles at senior level include advanced pharmacist, consultant pharmacist, team manager and professional manager of pharmaceutical services. Salaries can range from £39,632 to £81,618 (Band 8a to 8d) depending on knowledge, training and experience. As a most senior manager of pharmaceutical services, salaries of £77,850 to £98,453 (Band 9) can be reached.

Salaries within private hospitals may be set at different levels.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

NHS hospital pharmacists typically work 37.5 hours a week. This includes weekends and some extra hours may be required. You will also usually be part of an on-call rota.

Flexible working arrangements, part-time work and job-sharing are possible. Career breaks may be possible within the NHS.

What to expect

  • You'll work in the dispensary and on the wards, with regular patient contact on a daily basis. You may also work in laboratories and small, sterile rooms called 'clean rooms'. Much of the work involves dealing directly with chemicals and medicines.
  • Many hospitals offer accommodation for pre-registration students.
  • Jobs are available in most towns and cities but seldom in rural areas.
  • Travel within a working day and overseas work are uncommon.

Qualifications

To qualify as a hospital 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 hospital 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.

There are universities across the UK which are accredited by the GPhC to offer the necessary MPharm degree. Details of all of them can be found at GPhC: Accredited MPharm Degrees.

Entry to the profession without a pharmacy degree or with an 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 hospital pharmacist.

During the pre-registration training you will be assigned a personal tutor who is an experienced pharmacist. To find out more about this training year see GPhC: Pre-registration Training Placement.

In order to register as a pharmacist you must also demonstrate your fitness to practise.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication skills for dealing with patients and health professionals;
  • the ability to work carefully, methodically and accurately with medicines and doses - this is vital as mistakes could prove fatal;
  • the ability to use scientific knowledge to solve problems;
  • IT skills for recording information;
  • interpersonal skills and a caring and sympathetic manner, as the work usually involves contact with patients on the wards and in outpatient departments;
  • a responsible attitude to work;
  • teamwork skills;
  • general clinical awareness.

If you have supervisory responsibility, you will also require effective management and leadership skills.

Work experience

Try to get experience either in a setting working with the public or in a local pharmacy that will give you exposure to working with prescriptions and drugs. Any knowledge and experience of the profession you can demonstrate will be helpful.

You should also 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 hospital pharmacists work for hospitals in the NHS.

It is also possible to work in the private sector for companies such as BMI Healthcare, BUPA and Nuffield Health. They, along with other private sector providers, run care homes for older people and adults and children with mental health, learning or physical disabilities, as well as hospitals and clinics.

NHS trusts may also employ locum pharmacists to work in their hospital pharmacy departments. In these instances, you may work for an agency but you could also work for an individual hospital or NHS trust on a casual basis.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

After becoming a registered pharmacist, many hospital pharmacists develop their careers by taking a certificate or diploma in clinical pharmacy, which is often followed by an MSc. This is usually necessary to be able to progress to more senior grades.

You will undertake a range of training to support you in your chosen speciality or career path. Training opportunities include in-house training provided by the pharmacy department or hospital, regionally or nationally organised study days or courses, initial speciality training and training in management.

To remain registered with the GPhC you must carry out regular continuing professional development (CPD) to show you're up to date with the constantly changing profession. Certain standards are set by the GPhC which includes recording your CPD in a particular format. Find out more at GPhC: CPD.

It is important that you keep abreast of developments in drug research, including:

  • new drugs that are developed and come on to the market;
  • new methods of treating conditions with drugs;
  • government and hospital policies for drug treatment.

You can do this by reading professional journals and publications and attending courses and training sessions throughout your career.

Becoming a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society will provide access to relevant resources, events, a mentoring service, professional network, webinars and CPD support.

Career prospects

If you work in the NHS you will follow a structured career progression with opportunities to study for clinical and management qualifications, often supported by the employing trusts.

As a newly qualified pharmacist you will typically rotate between different pharmacy services offered by your hospital. These may include:

  • clinical pharmacy;
  • medicines information or management;
  • aseptic/technical services;
  • dispensary services;
  • community pharmacy services;
  • primary care;
  • radiopharmacy (the use of radioactive materials);
  • clinical trials.

Following two to three years' experience, you may apply for a more senior Band 7 pharmacist position. This is usually a rotational role but with more emphasis on specialising in a chosen area of pharmacy practice, for example:

  • cardiology;
  • paediatric care;
  • haematology;
  • quality assurance;
  • medicines information;
  • procurement and distribution;
  • radiopharmacy.

Opportunities exist to progress further to the role of supplementary or independent prescriber or to hospital pharmacy consultant (pharmacists with special interests). There are fewer opportunities in these roles, however, and it's sometimes necessary to relocate in order to progress.

You may also take on a role as a tutor by lecturing pre-reg trainees, delivering presentations to other medical staff or providing tutorial support to undergraduate pharmacy students.

Opportunities also exist for you to undertake locum work.