What does a Pharmacist do?

What is a Pharmacist?

A pharmacist is someone who traditionally works in a pharmacy (chemist shop, UK) and is in charge of the dispensing of prescription medications. A pharmacist has expert knowledge of medications and can advise members of the public in this matter and will also give advice on over-the-counter remedies that can be purchased for minor ailments or non-serious illnesses such as a cold.

There are also specific specialty pharmacists, some of them being veterinary, oncology, clinical, nuclear, consultant and industrial. Others may work in research relating to the pharmaceutical industry, researching new drugs and other health and nutrition issues.

What does a Pharmacist do?

The pharmacist is often the first point of call for someone suffering from a minor illness or in the initial stages of an illness, and relevant advice is given. In some countries now, especially in Europe, community pharmacists have been given prescribing power. This means that there are certain medications that can be prescribed by the pharmacist after a brief consultation with a patient. Additional requirements are often required of the pharmacist in order to be allowed to prescribe certain medications.

In hospital pharmacies, the job involves more specific drug measurements and preparations - for example confirming prescribed calculations of doses dependent on the patient's weight, and making sure that the correct dose is given. Hospital pharmacies deal with stronger and more dangerous drugs more often than community pharmacies do, and provide a vital service within the hospital. Generally, all pharmacists have expert knowledge about medicines and can apply this in different ways, depending on their chosen speciality or area of work.

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How to become a Pharmacist

There are very specific academic requirements involved in becoming a pharmacist. Qualifications and specific training requirements vary from country to country. Generally, an undergraduate bachelor of science degree is required, followed by a postgraduate pharmacy course. In some countries (for example the UK) the courses may be linked and the full qualification MPharm (Master of Pharmacy) may be obtained after five years of studying pharmacy - four undergraduate years plus one masters year.

In other countries (for example, the USA and Australia) undergraduate studies, or an undergraduate degree in a science subject is required for entry into a postgraduate pharmacy course and then at least two years of postgraduate study are required. In the US this results in a PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) qualification.

After completion of the academic requirements, most countries then require newly qualified pharmacists to work a "pre-registration" year, or an internship, to gain the experience required for the job. The number of hours required varies by country, and even by state within the USA. After the work experience has been completed, there are usually more exams. These may take the form of a licensing exam, or a registration exam, depending on specific country requirements. Some countries also require that pharmacists participate in continuing professional development (CPD) programmes as they progress through their careers. This ensures that they stay up-to-date on all aspects of the job, including emerging research and new medicines.

Personal attributes that are useful for being a pharmacist are typical for those working in any area of health and nutrition. These include a caring personality and the genuine desire to help people in need. Other attributes useful for a career in pharmacy would be the ability to take on a lot of responsibility, work under pressure, have great organizational skills and people skills.

What is the workplace of a Pharmacist like?

The workplace of a pharmacist will vary depending on the area of specialty. Typically a pharmacy is a small shop or a small department within a supermarket or larger drugstore where the pharmacist will work closely with dispensers and sales associates.

A pharmacist has a somewhat social job and deals with many different people in the workplace day-to-day, including customers and drug representatives. Pharmacies can get busy and being able to work quickly when under pressure will be helpful. Hospital pharmacies are much quieter and less busy, there are fewer people to deal with on a daily basis and only medications to dispense; patients in a hospital are usually seeing a doctor, so there is no need for the pharmacist to give consultations.

In a research position the environment will vary as well. There may be a lot of interaction with patients involved in clinical trials, or with drug companies and representatives, or on the other hand, there may be quiet laboratories dedicated to research. Within the field, there is enough variation to choose a specialty which will allow for the pharmacist to work in the environment best suited to his/her own personality.