Thinking of a career as a UK pharmacist? Here’s a starting guide…
Choosing a subject to study for university is probably one of life’s more difficult decisions. It involves worrying whether you’ll like the subject, pass the exams and ultimately, help you land a career in that area. I’ve made this blog as a starting guide to anyone interested in pharmacy as a potential career option in the UK.
∘ Is pharmacy for me?
∘ The basics
∘ Which school of Pharmacy is right for me?
∘ Pre-registration year
∘ Pre-registration exam
∘ Starting as a newly qualified pharmacist
Is pharmacy for me?
Research the role of a pharmacist and whether it is actually the role you want and were expecting! In the UK, it takes 5 years to become a registered pharmacist. The typical university degree takes 3 years. You don’t want to spend 5 years studying pharmacy before realizing ‘Ah actually, I don’t think it’s for me’. I know friends who have finished the whole 5 years before deciding it wasn’t the career for them. My point is, 5 years is a lengthy commitment, so research what a pharmacist career involves before applying.
For an introduction to different pharmacist roles, see my blog here:
What Does a UK Pharmacist Actually Do?
A brief guide of the various sectors to explore as a UK pharmacist in 2021
Specific educational requirements differ slightly for each university so these are general requirements:
GCSE: Grade 5 (B) in English Language and Maths
A-levels (UK students): ABB — AAB
International Baccalaureate (International students): 6,6,5
Subjects: Chemistry is often compulsory, Maths or Biology are preferred as secondary subjects
Which school of Pharmacy is right for me?
To become a pharmacist, you must graduate with a Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) from an accredited pharmacy school which takes 4 years and complete a pre-registration year (5 years total). Once you graduate, you will automatically receive a Master qualification (this is compulsory).
Your choice of university should be driven by the quality of their MPharm program rather than the overall ranking of the university. Complete University Guide publishes an annual league table ranking all the UK accredited universities for pharmacy and pharmacology.
Note: Pharmacy and pharmacology are different degrees. You cannot become a pharmacist with a pharmacology degree so ignore any universities which only offer pharmacology as an option.
In my opinion, certain pharmacy schools may structure their pharmacy course to be more focused towards a specific pharmacy sector (I only realised this after becoming a pharmacist). Another reason why researching the university is important — attend the open days!
Pre-registration year (known as the Foundation Training year from July 2021)
This year is meant to consolidate all four university years of learning. Trainee Pharmacists are expected to meet 76 performance standards over the course of the year (this changes to learning outcomes from July 2021). It sounds daunting, but most outcomes are relatively straightforward (one of the competencies is being able to communicate effectively in English). The training year is paid.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) regulates pharmacists in Great Britain and hence the pre-registration year. For a more detailed breakdown of the year itself, I have linked the official GPhC website.
Contrary to what your employer might say, you are there to learn! The pre-registration year is meant to prepare you to become a pharmacist: make sure to ask questions, take advantage of learning opportunities and build contacts, whether with other Trainee Pharmacists or seniors. I can’t stress the importance of making the most of learning opportunities. As a pharmacist, you may not have these opportunities again so if you are offered a chance to shadow specialty pharmacists, observe patient clinics or travel to conferences, say yes!
On the topic of building contacts, pharmacy is a small world and if you don’t know a pharmacist, you will probably know someone who does. Building contacts definitely helps if you want to transfer pharmacy sectors at later stages of your career.
One of the main aims of the pre-registration year is to prepare you for the pre-registration exam. The exam is set by the GPhC and is the last step that stands between you and becoming a pharmacist. June and September are the typical assessment months but COVID-19 has resulted in unexpected changes. You have 3 attempts and pass rates vary each year. I won’t go into detail about what’s covered in the exam but all becomes clear during the pre-registration year.
Starting as a newly qualified pharmacist
If you pass the exam, congratulations! You are almost a newly qualified pharmacist.
Once you have joined the GPhC register, you need to renew your license annually to stay registered as a pharmacist. I would also advise getting pharmacist indemnity insurance. You may be covered to some extent through your employer’s standard operating procedures but I strongly recommend having your own insurance as well. A great way to continue your professional development and be aware of changes to pharmacy/medicine-related news is to become a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
Do not feel confined to one pharmacy sector (especially if you are not enjoying it)! As a pharmacist, you have the flexibility to experience various sectors. Personally, I would like to experience all the main pharmacy sectors at different points of my career to see our roles change in new environments.