As a hospital pharmacist, you'll be an expert in the field of medicines, understanding how they are used and what their effects are on the human body
As well as dispensing prescriptions, you'll be involved in the purchasing and quality testing of medicines. You 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.
You'll need to:
- check prescriptions for errors, ensuring they're appropriate and safe for the individual patient
- provide advice on the dosage of medicines and the most appropriate form of medication, which could be by 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
- carry out teaching within the pharmacy department and in other areas of the hospital - this would only be once you have gained substantial experience.
Within the NHS, the Agenda for Change pay structure has clearly defined pay bands.
- Newly qualified pharmacists start on Band 6, where salaries range from £32,306 to £39,027.
- With further study and training, it's possible to progress to Band 7 where salaries are set at £40,057 to £45,839.
- Salaries at a senior level can range from £47,126 to £90,387 (Band 8a to 8d) depending on your knowledge, training and experience. As a chief pharmacist, you could earn between £93,735 and £108,075 (Band 9).
Salaries within private hospitals may be set at different levels.
Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.
NHS hospital pharmacists typically work 37.5 hours a week, which may include weekends. Some extra hours may be required at times. You may also 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 work in laboratories and small, sterile rooms called clean rooms. Much of the work involves dealing directly with chemicals and medicines.
- Jobs are available in most towns and cities but seldom in rural areas.
- Travel within a working day and overseas work are uncommon.
To qualify as a hospital pharmacist, you need to:
- successfully complete a Masters degree in pharmacy (MPharm) accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
- successfully complete one-year's foundation training (formerly pre-registration training) as a trainee pharmacist
- pass the GPhC registration assessment
- meet the GPhC fitness to practise requirements.
You can then apply for registration with the GPhC, which is necessary to practise as a pharmacist in England, Wales and Scotland. For qualifying as a pharmacist in Northern Ireland, see the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The MPharm is a full-time course that usually lasts four years. Some universities, however, offer a five-year integrated MPharm that includes the foundation training. In addition, the University of Bradford offers a five-year sandwich degree that also includes the foundation year. See the GPhC website for a list of accredited MPharm degrees.
Entry to the profession without a pharmacy degree is not possible. However, it is possible to progress into year two of an MPharm course with a GPhC-accredited pharmacy foundation degree from Kingston University.
Some universities also offer a pharmacy degree with a foundation year for those who don't have the qualifications to enter directly onto the MPharm. On successful completion of this foundation year, you will move into year one of the MPharm.
The GPhC is in the process of reforming the initial education and training of pharmacists. The pre-registration scheme has been replaced by the new foundation training scheme.
All students who started on an MPharm degree in 2021/22 onwards will follow the new standards and training.
The foundation training year will offer on-the-job training in a clinical setting. You'll work under the supervision of a designated supervisor as a trainee pharmacist at an approved training site for at least 52 weeks. You will develop your practice and enhance your knowledge and skills guided by your supervisor and will follow an approved training plan in order to meet set learning outcomes. Find a training placement.
There is also another key change to pharmacist training that is in the process of being implemented. In the future, you will undertake at least 90 hours of supervised practice relating to prescribing during your foundation training year so that you will be qualified to prescribe as soon as you have GPhC registration.
If you meet all the learning outcomes in your foundation year, you will sit a registration assessment, which tests the specific knowledge and skills needed to work as a pharmacist.
Once you have passed the registration assessment and demonstrated your fitness to practise, you can apply for registration with the GPhC. As part of the process, you will also undergo a character check and complete a health declaration.
For more information on the new standards for initial education and training of pharmacists, see the GPhC website.
You'll 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 your initiative and to apply scientific knowledge to solve problems
- IT skills for recording information
- interpersonal skills and a caring and sympathetic manner, as the work involves contact with patients on the wards and in outpatient departments
- the ability to prioritise your work and to meet deadlines
- the ability to work independently and also as part of a team
- a flexible approach to work
- general clinical awareness
- the ability to work under pressure
- a professional and responsible attitude to work
- effective management and leadership skills - you'll need these if you have supervisory responsibility.
Try to get experience either in a setting where you work 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 will be helpful. You could also apply to volunteer in hospitals through the Royal Voluntary Service.
You should also consider becoming a student member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). This provides access to resources, networking opportunities and support throughout your studies.
Once you've finished your degree, you must complete one year's foundation training. Health Education England runs the National Foundation Trainee Pharmacist Recruitment scheme through Oriel. You need to apply to the scheme in June in the year before you finish your MPharm (your third year) if you want to start your foundation training straight after your degree. The pharmacist foundation scheme in Scotland is managed by NHS Education for Scotland. For Wales, see Health Education and Improvement Wales (Pharmacy).
Foundation training places are also advertised in trade magazines such as the Pharmaceutical Journal and Chemist and Druggist.
You can also search for accredited training premises via the GPhC website.
For free mentoring resources and experiences designed to support aspiring healthcare and legal professionals - including virtual work experience that is accepted by medical schools, see Medic Mentor.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The majority of hospital pharmacists work for the NHS.
It's also possible to work in the private sector for companies such as the Circle Health Group, BUPA and Nuffield Health.
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.
There are also some opportunities to work at health centres, nursing homes, hospices and GPs' surgeries.
Look for job vacancies at:
Check the websites of private sector organisations for available roles. Locum agencies also handle temporary vacancies.
To remain registered with the GPhC you must keep your professional skills and knowledge up to date, and revalidate on an annual basis to show you're up to date with the constantly changing profession. Certain standards are set by the GPhC, which include submitting records to GPhC to show how you have carried out and recorded revalidation activities.
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 progress to more senior grades.
You'll undertake a range of training, which will 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.
It's important to 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, training, events, a mentoring service, professional network, webinars and revalidation support.
If you work in the NHS you'll follow a structured career path with opportunities to study for clinical and management qualifications, often supported by the employing trusts.
As a newly qualified pharmacist, you'll typically rotate between different pharmacy services offered by your hospital. These may include:
- aseptic/technical services
- clinical pharmacy
- clinical trials
- community pharmacy services
- dispensary services
- medicines information or management
- primary care
- radiopharmacy (the use of radioactive materials).
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:
- medicines information
- paediatric care
- procurement and distribution
- quality assurance
There are opportunities to further progress to the role of consultant pharmacist - a clinical expert who works at a senior level. Other senior posts include deputy chief and chief pharmacist. There are fewer positions available in these roles and it may be necessary to relocate in order to progress.
You may also move into research or into lecturing on MPharm degree courses.
It's also possible to undertake locum work.