If you'd like to be a pharmacist you'll need to be educated to degree level. Learn more about MPharm programmes, available apprenticeships and your career prospects
Pharmacists are experts in medicines and their use, and their work regularly crosses over with careers in healthcare. Pharmacists typically work as community pharmacists in independent or chain stores on the high street, or as hospital pharmacists. They can also work in doctor's surgeries, for pharmaceutical companies or in academia in university departments.
'Pharmacy is a rapidly changing profession with a range of careers available to graduates, from working in the pharmaceutical industry to clinical roles that support improving patient care,' explains Dr Mark Ashton, lecturer in medicinal chemistry, part of the School of pharmacy at the University of Newcastle.
But how do you become a pharmacist? The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) regulates the profession and you'll need specific, accredited qualifications to become registered.
Master of pharmacy (MPharm)
The first step to becoming a community or hospital pharmacist is to complete a GPhC-accredited Masters degree in pharmacy, more commonly known as an MPharm.
MPharm degrees are integrated courses, which combine undergraduate and postgraduate- study into one programme. They typically take four years to complete. Entry to the profession without a degree or with a HND only is not possible.
A variety of UK institutions provide MPharm courses, to check which programmes are accredited, see GPhC accredited MPharm degrees. Accredited universities include:
- Aston University
- Cardiff University
- Durham University
- Kingston University London
- Liverpool John Moores University
- Newcastle University
- Robert Gordon University
- Queens University Belfast
- University of Bradford
- University of Central Lancashire
- University College London
- University of East Anglia
- University of Nottingham
- University of Strathclyde
- University of Sussex
- University of Ulster.
At the University of Newcastle you'll need AAB at A-level for entry onto their four-year MPharm programme. In your first year you’ll study the Fundamentals of Pharmacy: the Integration of Science and Practice'. Your second year covers Pharmaceutical Care: Pathology, Patients and Professionalism'. The third year examines Applied Pharmaceutical Interventions: Design, Delivery and Decisions'. In your final year you'll study two modules one of which you choose. The other focuses on 'Targeted Therapeutics: Optimisation, Critique and Responsibility'. In 2021/22 tuition fees cost £9,250 for UK students. Learn more about your funding options.
'The course at Newcastle follows an integrated curriculum in which students will gain an insight into how medicines are made, but also how to ensure that medicines are used appropriately and safely in clinical practice,' says Dr Ashton.
'Working in partnership with the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Freeman Hospital our students gain experience in patient care by completing clinical rotations within these two hospitals,' adds Dr Ashton.
The four-year MPharm at Aston University requires you to have BBB at A-level including chemistry and one other science subject. You'll study 12 integrated themes over three broad areas of study including 'The Professional', 'The Medicine' and 'The Patient'. Assessment methods include written examinations, coursework, presentations, clinical simulations and laboratory assessments. For the 2022/23 academic year tuition fees are set at £9,250 for UK students.
'At Aston we have a long-standing track record of teaching excellence, student satisfaction and graduate prospects, and students are provided with the opportunities, experience and expertise needed for the foundation training year and successful future career as a pharmacist in whatever field is chosen,' says a spokesperson at Aston University. 'Students are supported throughout by a personal tutor who is there to aid students’ personal and professional development as future pharmacists'.
If you study a four-year course you'll need to complete a period of one-year foundation, sometimes referred to as pre-registration training before you can register with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and start your career as a pharmacist. However, some courses such as the five-year MPharm at Kingston University London, incorporate this foundation year into their programme.
If you don't have a recognised pharmacy degree but would still like to work within the field there are a number of alternative courses you could take to work as a pharmacy technician or as part of a pharmacy's support staff.
Buttercups and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) provide pharmacy technician training - both are GPhC-accredited training providers.
All of Buttercups' pharmacy technician training courses can be studied online and they include:
- Pharmacy Technician Training Programme
- Vaccination Training
- Accuracy Checking Pharmacy Technician Course
- Support Staff Course for Dispensing Assistants
- Support Staff Course for Medicines Counter Assistants
- Pharmacy Support Worker Course.
The NPA also provide a variety of courses for people working at all levels of the profession.
If university study isn't for you, you can enter the field of pharmacy through an apprenticeship.
You can't become a registered pharmacist but you can work as a pharmacy assistant or pharmacy technician, depending on which apprenticeship you take.
Buttercups offer two different apprenticeships: The Pharmacy Technician (integrated) Apprenticeship and the Pharmacy Services Assistant Apprenticeship.
High street chain Boots also provides an intermediate (Level 2) pharmacy adviser apprenticeship. McKesson, parent company to Lloyds Pharmacy also runs intermediate and advanced apprenticeships in pharmacy services (12 months) and pharmacy technician (24 months) respectively.
Pharmacy support apprenticeships are also offered by individual NHS employers (such as trusts), covering intermediate (Level 2) and advanced (Level 3).
Careers in pharmacy
Pharmacists can work in industry, research and academia in settings as varied as hospitals, GP practices and care homes to offices and factories if working in the pharmaceutical industry.
'Most of our students have entered roles that are directly involved in improving patient care and are based with hospitals, community pharmacies and general practice,' says Dr Ashton.
Studying for a PhD is also an option that opens up opportunities to teach the subject in higher education settings.
If you have pharmacy qualifications but no longer wish to work in the field the transferable skills you hold can facilitate a career change into other healthcare settings such as medical writing, education and training and research. You could also retrain as a dietician or physician associate, as your science-based MPharm degree will fulfil the entry requirements.
Alternatively, you could work within the pharmaceutical industry by undertaking a graduate scheme at one of the main pharmaceutical companies such as Astrazeneca or GSK. To find out more about science-related graduate schemes, see our overview of the science sector.
Find out more
- Gain an insight into the science and pharmaceuticals sector.
- Learn more about 10 alternative science careers.