What does a
pharmacist do?

Pharmacists are the medicines expert in the wider healthcare team. They use their clinical and science based training in a range of settings from hospitals and community pharmacies to GP practices, industry, research & development, academia and beyond. They are the third largest healthcare profession.

Pharmacists can be found wherever there are medicines.

Below, we list:

  • the main areas of Pharmacy practice, and
  • the Education and Training you will need to become a Pharmacist in Northern Ireland

Pharmacists:

  • advise other healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, on how to choose medicines and use them correctly
  • ensure that new medicines are safe to use with other medication
  • advise on dosage and suggest the most appropriate form of medication such as tablet, injection, ointment or inhaler
  • make sure that patients use their medicines safely
  • provide information to patients on how get the maximum benefit from the medicines they are prescribed
  • advise on the most effective treatments for a particular condition including those for sale without prescription
  • help patients manage long term conditions
  • recommend changes to prescriptions and give advice on prescribing
  • provide information about potential side effects
  • monitor the effects of treatment to ensure that it is safe and effective

Community
pharmacy

Community pharmacists work at the frontline of healthcare in cities, towns and villages across Northern Ireland to support the health and wellbeing of the local population.


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They lead or work as part of a team in small individually owned pharmacies up to larger multiple chains. They are responsible for the safe supply and sale of medicines to the public and also play a key role in health promotion, prevention and recognition of ill health.

The traditional role of the community pharmacist as the healthcare professional who dispenses prescriptions is familiar to most, however pharmacists also use their clinical training and skills to deliver a range of services aimed at preventing and managing ill health. These include the management and monitoring of long-term conditions, conducting medicines reviews, advising on healthy lifestyles through to running travel clinics and administering vaccinations.

Pharmacists are also trained to deal with a wide range of common conditions, such as sore throats, colds and flu, where they offer advice, recommend over-the-counter products or make referrals to other healthcare professionals. The introduction of new community-based services means that patients are encouraged to go to their pharmacy as their first port of call for advice and treatment of these conditions rather than go to their GP surgery.

As more pharmacists train to become independent prescribers, the community pharmacist role will be extended and future service development will see further roll-out of pharmacists prescribing in community pharmacies.

Community pharmacists provide a very accessible point of healthcare on the high street and research has shown that 9% of the population visit a community pharmacy daily. They are highly trusted members of their communities and work collaboratively with colleagues throughout the health and social care service to secure the best outcomes for their patients.

Hospital
pharmacy

Pharmacists are valued members of the hospital team, working alongside doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals to facilitate the safe, effective and appropriate use of medicines. In Northern Ireland pharmacists work in one of the five Hospital Trusts or in a private hospital.


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It is a career with a lot of variety and offers many options in terms of responsibility however, hospital pharmacists are generally part of a team which includes pharmacy technicians and all are actively involved in patient care.

As the medicines expert in the hospital team, pharmacists contribute to decisions about patients’ treatment. When working on hospital wards, they review patients medicines, monitor their progress and make sure patients understand how to take their medicines correctly. They also provide advice to other healthcare professionals on the most appropriate dose or form of a medicine or give opinions about the use of certain medicines in patients with particular clinical problems.

Hospital pharmacists are involved in procurement, dispensing, manufacturing, testing, medicine safety and the education of student pharmacists, doctors and nurses. As they develop their career they can also specialise in clinical areas such as care of older people, pain management, cardiology, oncology, paediatrics and mental health and will often be an independent prescriber. In addition to working in clinics, some pharmacists provide care to at home patients.

Senior pharmacists can move into management, where, for example, they use their expertise to advise how hospitals should manage the use of medicines and the budget needed to buy them. Alternatively, they stay in clinical roles right up to consultant level.

Hospital pharmacists have a wide choice of area to practice and scope for different levels of career development.

General Practice
pharmacy

General Practice pharmacists work in GP surgeries. They consult and treat patients directly and are often a prescriber in their own right. Patients will visit a general practice pharmacist at the surgery when they need expert advice on medicines.


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The general practice pharmacist typically cares for patients who live with long-term conditions such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, arthritis or high blood pressure and often treats people who live with several of these conditions. Their role is to improve health outcomes for these patients by reviewing their medicines to ensure they are appropriate, discuss how they are working and carry out health checks, such as taking blood pressure or arranging to have blood or other tests completed. They give advice on the best way to take medicines and can also advise on lifestyle changes to help manage the patient’s condition.

As part of the wider multi-professional team in the practice, pharmacists are able to provide advice and education, resolve problems with prescriptions and reduce prescribing errors and waste which enables other healthcare professionals to focus their skills where they are most needed, for example in diagnosing and treating patients.

Industrial
pharmacy

Industrial pharmacists generally work in pharmaceutical companies, in a variety of roles, where they manufacture, develop, and supply medicines, however, they can also use their specialist skills across other life science industries.


(read more)

In the pharmaceutical industry, they conduct research, testing and analysis to discover new and ground-breaking drugs. They then use the latest processes, methods and technologies to develop them into safe and effective medicines for patients. Industrial pharmacists can also be involved in clinical drug trials to determine potential risks or side effects in the use of such medicines.

In addition to drug development, they are involved in manufacturing processes, quality assurance and the sales and marketing of the finished products to customers. Industry also provides opportunities to work in roles not traditionally associated with pharmacists such as management, administration, wholesaling and drug regulation.

Pharmacists can also work in the vibrant and constantly changing sectors of the biopharmaceutical industry, which uses biotechnology to drive the pace of drug discovery and development. They can also work in the digital health arena that uses computing platforms, connectivity and software development as well as artificial intelligence for health and patient care.

Innovation and collaboration are at the core of these sectors.

Academic
pharmacy

Academic pharmacists educate, train, assess and develop student pharmacists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. They may also promote the importance of STEM subjects for future pharmacy careers and initiatives to enhance public understanding of the pharmacist’s role and the importance of science and research.


(read more)

Working alongside key stakeholders and educational experts, they review, update and develop teaching and assessment materials to reflect changes in education and practice. This can be for classroom, work-based, or virtual learning environments. Academics also offer pastoral support and highlight development opportunities to students, and are often viewed as role models and mentors.

Teacher Practitioners (TPs) have a split role where, in addition to working in academia, they spend a large proportion of their time working in another area of pharmacy practice such as hospital, community or industry. Within universities, TPs help shape course material to ensure it is contemporary and authentic and may also provide career advice and influence skills development so that student pharmacists are employment-ready.

In addition to teaching, academic pharmacists usually conduct high-quality research or take part in other scholarly activities. This may include areas such as education and training, biotherapeutics, drug design and delivery, healthcare delivery, medicines optimisation and antimicrobial stewardship.

Emphasis is placed on innovation, gathering evidence and using scientific principles to enhance patient outcomes. Academics work collaboratively with others and effectively communicate their findings at conferences and in peer reviewed journals, or through the publication of professional guidance and educational material.

Education & training

To become a pharmacist, the following is required:

  • Successful completion of a Master of Pharmacy Degree (MPharm) at an accredited UK university

  • Successful completion of a Foundation Training Year overseen by the Northern Ireland Centre for Pharmacy Learning and Development

  • Successful completion of the Common Registration Assessment

Training programmes in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has two outstanding schools of pharmacy offering undergraduate and post-graduate programmes. Please follow the links below to find out more about the courses on offer and how to apply:

Details of other accredited courses can be found via the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) website

Foundation training year

You must meet the fitness to practise requirements for registration as a pharmacist. Details on fitness to practise criteria can be found at the Pharmaceutical Society NI’s website.

Plans are in place to reform the initial education and training of pharmacists from 2021. Read more here.

A good decision

Watch and see what some current pharmacy students are enjoying about their course.

The role of a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians are members of the pharmacy team who, under the supervision of a pharmacist, are involved in preparing, dispensing and supplying medicines. Here’s a quick look at what the job entails.

Watch our ‘Careers in Pharmacy’ event

We brought together a group of our pharmacy colleagues with Cool FM’s Rebecca McKinney who quizzed them on their careers and what an average day in the life of a pharmacist – and becoming a pharmacist - is like.

Explaining a pharmacist’s role

We are delighted to present a new Explainer Video targeted mainly at school pupils at the slightly earlier stage in subject choices/career decision-making - but of course it is suitable for any post-primary age.

Skills required

In addition to scientific knowledge, pharmacists must:

  • Work with a high level of accuracy at all times

  • Have good communication skills

  • Work well on their own initiative or as part of a team

  • Interact well with patients, providing advice, signposting and support.

You can find out more about the career pathways for pharmacists in Northern Ireland by visiting the nidirect website