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Medicine, Medical Sciences & Research careers

Pharmacy & Pharmaceuticals

What do pharmacists do?

Napoleon once said: “water, air, and cleanness are the chief articles in my pharmacy.” He was an intelligent guy, but (thankfully) times have changed, and there’s now much more to the pharmacy and pharmaceuticals industry than water, air and cleanness.

Luckily, we have people offering us advice on how to cure our various ailments and there’s a wealth of intelligent scientists who are dedicated to researching, developing and producing the medicines that keep us from illness, disease and death. These guys are also the clever people that produce and distribute those amazing little tablets which sort us out when we have a hangover. If that sounds like your bag, then a graduate job in this field could await you!

How is pharmacy different from medicine?

Pharmacists are the brainy people that make sure patients get the right medicines and know how to manage their consumption of those drugs. They are absolute experts when it comes to different medicines and provide us with vital information about their various positive and negative effects.

If you are prescribed a specific medicine by a doctor, you will liaise with your pharmacist who will supply you with the appropriate tablets, cream, mixture, liquid or whatever else you might need to treat your illness. They will then tell you how it works, how much you should be using and warn you of any possible side effects.

If you pursue a career in this area, you could be working in all kinds of environments; from hospitals and primary care trusts, to academic institutions and pharmacies on your high street, such as Boots and Superdrug.

How do I get into pharmacy?

You can’t just walk straight into a pharmacy career. You will need to obtain an MPharm degree first. This takes four years to complete, followed by 12 months of training before you can become a registered pharmacist.

Understandably, you’re going to need to be interested in science to make it in this line of work. In order to get onto an MPharm course, your A-levels should include at least two science subjects; one of which should be chemistry.

The important people that work in the pharmaceuticals industry are responsible for conducting scientific research and then developing the medicines that pharmacists dispense. These scientists are responsible for developing new treatments for diseases and adapting existing medicines to make them more effective.

This is a hugely broad area of medical science and many different kinds of scientists have an important part to play in the development of medicines and pharmaceutical products that save lives and improve people’s health.

Sure, a lot of work in the pharmaceuticals industry takes place in laboratories. However, the pharmaceuticals industry also depends on the hard of work of many other professionals. Pharmaceutical companies tend to be huge corporations that make millions and millions of pounds every year.

Consequently, they rely on sales and marketing professionals, managers, administrators and people working within corporate services departments. For more information on these areas of work though, check out the Healthcare: Medical Sales & Marketing and Healthcare: Management, Administration & I.T. subsectors now!

What kinds of pharmacists are there?

The majority of pharmacists work as community pharmacists or hospital pharmacists. Community pharmacists are the people who we are likely to encounter most often: either when we stumble all snotty into Boots in search of a magic remedy for ‘man flu’, or when we have been prescribed a specific medicine by our GP.

They dispense prescriptions, provide helpful advice on other medicines and tell people how it’s best to treat their ailments. These guys also have extra responsibilities, such as providing people with emergency contraception (a.k.a. ‘the morning after pill’), helping people to stop smoking and testing people for diabetes.

Hospital pharmacists do exactly what it says on the tin. They work in hospitals alongside doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals to make sure that hospital patients get the right medicines and treatments in the right doses. They understand patients’ individual needs and provide expert advice on the different medicines that would be the most effective.

They are also responsible for the procurement of medicines and conducting safety checks on them before they are consumed by patients.

Pharmacists don’t only work in your local pharmacy or hospital. Indeed, there are various niche areas of pharmacy that offer a different kind of career path altogether. You could work as an academic pharmacist where you would continue your own personal research studies and teach MPharm degrees to budding pharmacists.

You could pursue a career as a primary care pharmacist. These guys have a more strategic edge to their work focus, and are responsible for managing and improving pharmacy services within a certain geographical area and promoting healthier living in community settings.

You could even work as a pharmacist within the armed forces, where you’d be responsible for the distribution of medicines and medical equipment to officers in a range of locations across the world during times of conflict. You might also be dispensing medicines and providing advice to officers during peacetime, perhaps within army barracks or training facilities.

If animals are more your thing, you could become a veterinary pharmacist. These guys supply medicines for agricultural animals and for people’s precious pets. Indeed, you could be dispensing tablets for terriers, capsules for cows, pills for parrots, remedies for rabbits and medicines for monkeys. Understandably, to pursue this area of pharmacy, it would be good idea to opt for courses which offer veterinary pharmacy modules.

If you don’t want to work as an actual pharmacist or study for five years before you start working, but still want to work as part of the pharmacy team, you could become a pharmacy technician. These guys support hospital and community pharmacists by performing administrative tasks and dispensing medicines over the counter from time to time. There are no minimum academic requirements for entry into this profession.

The pharmaceutical industry employs a range of scientists who play a vital role in the discovery, development and production of medicines, from pharmacologists, biochemists and engineers to toxicologists, clinical research analysts and mathematicians.

Generally, the pharmaceutical industry is all about conducting research, carrying out experiments and chemically developing tablets, treatments, ointments, creams and other pharmaceutical products within laboratories. These medicinal products are then rigorously tested. These activities are carried out by research and development scientists, such as biochemists, analytical chemists, toxicologists and laboratory technicians.

The drugs that have been developed and tested then enter the production process, where medicines are produced on a mass-scale before being distributed to pharmacies across the world. This is where engineers and production managers come into play. For more information on this side of the pharmaceutical industry, check out the Medical & Pharmaceutical Engineering and Pharmaceuticals (Manufacturing & Production sector) subsectors now!

There are various ways for you to enter the scientific side of the pharmaceutical industry. The majority of research and development scientists will have a relevant degree in a scientific or engineering subject such as biology, chemistry, pharmacology, physics, medicine, pharmacy, mechanical engineering or chemical engineering. In fact, most people obtain an MSc or a PhD before entering this line of work. 

However, you can also enter this industry through an apprenticeship scheme or with an HND/HNC. If you take the non-uni route, you will certainly be working in lower-level positions. However, you can still get involved with laboratory work or the production side of pharmaceutical engineering. You could even become a laboratory technician where you would be directly supporting research and development scientists, taking samples and conducting routine testing duties.

It’s hard to imagine a more important industry to work in – you are either researching groundbreaking new medicines, or handing them over to the unwell people who need them. Not only does a career in pharmacy and pharmaceuticals have a huge impact on the lives of billions of people, it accommodates employees from a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of experience.