Pharmacist Job Description - Requirements, Skills, Duties and Career
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What Does a Pharmacist Do?
Pharmacists are experts in medicine and their use. They are responsible for formulating, preparing and dispensing medicines, medical devices and other health products.
Pharmacists work mainly as employees, associates or owners of retail pharmacies (also known as community pharmacies), as well as in hospital pharmacies. Many also work in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries or carry out research in scientific institutes, clinics and pharmaceutical laboratories. Pharmacists typically wear a white lab coat when working.
A pharmacist’s duties may vary depending on the sector and role in which they are employed.
The primary task of pharmacy counter assistants working in retail pharmacies and at pharmacy counters in shops and supermarkets is to sell prescription and over-the-counter medicines, herbal and homeopathic products, cosmetics and health and beauty products.
In addition to selling products, pharmacists working in retail pharmacies also advise customers on the correct use and dosage of medicines, informing them of any contraindications and potential side effects, and prepare compounded medications.
They also perform preventive screening tests (such as measuring blood pressure, and cholesterol and testing for food allergies), administer vaccinations and provide advice on leading a healthy lifestyle. Additional duties of pharmacists working in retail pharmacies include managing orders for medicines, carrying out stock control and arranging merchandise on display units.
Retail pharmacy is a heavily customer-focused environment, in which building relationships with customers is a key prerequisite for the provision of appropriate and effective medical advice. Pharmacists therefore need to be able to welcome customers, serving and assisting them in a polite and friendly manner. In addition, to ensure a pharmacy is able to satisfy the needs of its customers at all times, pharmacists must also constantly monitor stock levels of medicines.
Pharmacists working in hospital pharmacies are in charge of supplying medicines to the hospital wards for the treatment of patients. They work in close contact with doctors, providing pharmacological advice and assistance to the hospital’s healthcare professionals. Hospital pharmacists are responsible for placing and managing orders for medicines, ensuring the pharmacy is adequately stocked and verifying all documentation pertaining to medicines in order to ensure their safe and effective supply and use within the hospital.
Another sector in which many pharmacists work is the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. They may, for example, be involved in conducting research and development into new drugs and treatments, in setting up and running clinical trials in collaboration with healthcare professionals to assess the quality, effectiveness and safety of medicines and medical devices, or in collecting, analyzing and publishing scientific data. Pharmacists are also often employed in intellectual property or patent offices - for example, examining applications for patents for pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other retail health products (e.g. dietary supplements, homeopathic medicines, cosmetics and herbal medicines), as a patent examiner.
Pharmacists may work full or part time. Those working in community pharmacies may sometimes be required to work on public holidays, weekends or at nights.
Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties of a community or retail pharmacist include:
- Sale of prescription and over-the-counter medicines
- Providing customers with advice, e.g on the correct use of medicines
- Helping patients understand their prescriptions
- Preparation of compounded medicines in the laboratory
- Ordering medicines and performing stock control activities
- Various administrative tasks (e.g. cash handling and till management, arrangement of merchandise on shelves and display units)
Pharmacists working in a pharmaceutical laboratory, in a clinic or hospital, in manufacturing or in a research institute carry out a range of duties, including:
- Analysing, formulating and preparing pharmaceuticals and medical products, carrying out research and setting up and running clinical trials
- Performing laboratory tests on raw materials and active ingredients
- Preparing technical documentation in accordance with the applicable legislation
- Checking compliance with legal requirements for retail pharmaceutical products
How to Become a Pharmacist: Education and Requirements
A university-level qualification, such as a degree in pharmacy or pharmaceutical chemistry, is required to become a pharmacist. Pharmaceutical degree courses typically cover areas such as the active ingredients used in medicines, pharmaceutical preparation, laboratory techniques and equipment, toxicology, pharmaceutical legislation, pharmacovigilance and regulatory issues related to clinical trials and pharmaceutical licensing.
Pharmacists have a duty to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date and to stay abreast of any relevant developments in the sector (e.g. the latest clinical research and newly licensed medicines).
In some countries, there may be a legal requirement for pharmacists to obtain a license before they can practice. Pharmacists are also required to adhere to a professional code of conduct.
Pharmacist Skills and Qualifications
The skills required by a pharmacist include:
- Pharmaceutical science skills
- Analytical skills
- Organized, methodical approach
- Precision, attention to detail and concentration
- Ability to work as part of a team
Pharmacists working in retail pharmacies, who have contact with the general public, also need:
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Interaction and listening skills
- Customer-focused mindset
- Empathy, sociability and discretion
Career Path and What to Expect
Working in a pharmacy is just one of the wide range of career prospects enjoyed by pharmacy graduates. For pharmacists working in retail pharmacy, one interesting and potentially lucrative career path could be to set up their own pharmacy business or to take over an existing one. A hospital pharmacist, meanwhile, might progress to a position such as director of pharmacy or manager of pharmaceutical services.
Alternatively, pharmacists interested in acquiring the skills and expertise required to practice in a specialist area of pharmacy - such as nutrition, cosmetology, natural medicine or homeopathy - can choose from a wide range of professional training and refresher courses.
A wide range of interesting career development opportunities can also be found with pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. A pharmacist working in a research laboratory, for example, may advance to become a laboratory manager and, subsequently, a laboratory director, while pharmacists involved on the manufacturing and distribution side of things may progress to the role of manufacturing site director.
Another potential career option for pharmacists in the manufacturing sector is to specialize in quality control and work towards the role of pharmaceutical quality control manager.
An alternative area of specialization for pharmacists is to move into the clinical trials field, progressing to become a clinical trial monitor.
A career path followed by many pharmacy graduates is to is to find work as a pharmaceutical sales representatives, eventually progressing to become a product manager for a specific medical product.
Pharmacists are also often employed by companies in regulatory affairs roles, where their task is to ensure that the medicines and medical devices their company produces meet all the relevant regulatory requirements. Successful regulatory professionals may progress to the position of regulatory affairs manager.
Finally, a further option open to newly-qualified pharmacists is to remain in the academic sector, undertaking research and teaching work and gradually progressing to a position as university lecturer or professor.
Top Reasons to Work as a Pharmacist
Pharmacists carry out an extremely important role in safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing by ensuring that medicines are dispensed and used correctly and safely.
Another major attraction of the profession is the wide range of job opportunities available, with potential employers including pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and research institutes.
Finally, the profession typically offers good salaries - even for entry level positions - as well as financial stability and job security.