Gaining a recognised pharmacy qualification is essential to a successful career in pharmacy. Learn more about available courses and discover which route is right for you
Pharmacists are experts in medicines and their use, with this work heavily crossing 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 very rewarding career,' says Simon Tweddell, senior lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Bradford. 'Pharmacists are the experts in medicines and use their knowledge to help educate patients and other healthcare professionals on their safe and effective use.'
But how do you become a pharmacist? The profession is regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and you'll need specific, accredited qualifications to become registered. Take a look at the different training routes on offer.
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-level study into one programme. They typically take four years to complete. Entry to the profession without a degree or with only a HND is not possible.
A variety of institutions across the UK provide Mpharm courses, to check which programmes are accredited see GPhC accredited Mpharm degrees. Accredited universities that regularly top subject rankings for pharmacy courses include:
- Cardiff University
- Keele University
- Queen's University, Belfast
- Ulster University
- University College London (UCL)
- University of Nottingham
- University of Strathclyde.
To get onto the University of Bradford's 5-year MPharm degree, you'll need ABB grades at A-level, two of which must be in science-based subjects. 'This course is unique as it includes the pre-registration year as two six month paid placements. This gives students the opportunity to earn while they learn and to apply their knowledge to the workplace during their undergraduate studies,' explains Simon. Core modules include 'Foundation studies for pharmacy 1-4', 'Capability in pharmacy', 'Nutrition, metabolism and reproduction' and 'Senses, thoughts and movement'.
'Bradford's innovative MPharm degree programme has been designed by pharmacists, educators, students and employers to ensure that students will graduate not only with the necessary knowledge and skills, but also with the confidence, communication, team working and problem-solving skills need to secure employment,' adds Simon.
At the University of Nottingham core Mpharm modules include 'Being a pharmacist' and 'Essential skills for pharmacists' (year one), 'Pain' and 'Asthma, allergies and immune diseases' (year two), 'Viral and parasitic infections' and 'Central nervous system disorders' (year three) and 'Future medicines' and 'Advanced drug discovery' (year four). You'll need AAB at A-level, including chemistry and one other science-related subject for entry. The programme also gives all second year students the chance to study abroad in Malaysia.
If you've studied a four-year course you'll need to complete a period of one-year pre-registration training in a community pharmacy or hospital setting. After this training, you'll then need to pass the GPhC registration exam before you can apply to register with the GPhC as a pharmacist.
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.
Pharmacy technician training is provided by Buttercups and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA); both are GPhC-accredited training providers.
All of Buttercups’ pharmacy technician training courses can be studied online and they include:
- Pre-registration pharmacy technician programme
- BTEC level 3 diploma in pharmaceutical science
- Level 3 technical certificate in pharmaceutical science
- Level 3 NVQ diploma in pharmacy service skills
- Accredited checking pharmacy technician course.
The organisation also offers a range of level 2 qualifications for pharmacy support staff.
The NPA provide a variety of courses for people working at all levels of the profession. For example, they offer:
- the Medicines Counter Assistant Course for those working on a pharmacy’s counter
- the Accredited Dispensary Assistant Course for dispensary assistants
- Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Pharmacy Service Skills (OCF) and Accuracy in Dispensing for pharmacy technicians
- Pre-registration Trainee Pharmacist Training Programme for trainee pharmacists
- Medicines in Care Homes and Leadership for Health Living Pharmacy for pharmacists.
If university study isn't for you, you can still 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 pathway you take.
Buttercups offer two different apprenticeships. The apprenticeship in pharmacy is aimed at aspiring pharmacy support staff. This level 2 (intermediate) scheme takes one year to complete. The level 3 advanced apprenticeship in pharmacy is aimed at those wanting to become pharmacy technicians and takes 18 months to complete.
High street chain Boots also provide apprenticeships in pharmacy services. If you're aged between 16 and 24, you can apply for their level two pharmacy advisor scheme, which combines on-the-job training and relevant study to achieve an NVQ in pharmacy services skills. If you're aged between 18 and 24, you can choose to become a pharmacy technician on the organisation's level 3 programme.
Pharmacy support apprenticeships are also offered by individual NHS employers (such as trusts), covering intermediate (level 2) and advanced (level 3) programmes.
'Pharmacists can work in many different settings from designing, researching and developing new medicines in the pharmaceutical industry, supplying medicines to patients and providing advice on how to take them in community pharmacy, to being part of a ward team in a hospital,' says Simon.
'Some pharmacists are now prescribers, writing their own prescriptions. These pharmacists increasingly work in GP practices and run their own clinics. Pharmacists also work in roles that have less contact with patients such as in universities, research, publishing, government organisations and in the military.'
If you hold pharmacy qualifications but no longer wish to work directly in pharmacy, there are a number of options open to you.
If you wish to remain in healthcare you could 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. You could also move in to roles such as a medical sales representative or science writer.
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