The role of pharmacists has expanded extensively in recent years, making it a hugely varied profession. Of course, local pharmacies still thrive and community pharmacists continue to supply medicine, counsel patients on how to use their medicines properly and help them get better.
Pharmacy can put you squarely in the role of a key player in the future of healthcare worldwide. But what do pharmacists actually do? And where do they put their skills to use? It all depends on what branch of the profession you choose.
This is the area of pharmacy you are probably already familiar with. We all know what it's like to be able to drop in to consult our local pharmacy about a bad chest or a rash. Communication skills are important here as you build relationships with patients.
As well as dishing out prescriptions, you'll be counselling people on how to use medicines in safe and appropriate ways. You might be organising free delivery for housebound people, or supervising the heroin substitute methadone and helping a patient's recovery from addiction. If you care about your fellow human being, you'll get a real buzz from solving patients' problems.
And, of course, there will be the challenge of financial management and responsibility for staff, premises and stock. You'll find there are a thousand ways of being an important part of your local community and you will feel as though you are making a positive contribution to society. It will give you a tremendous sense of worth.
You'll be working alongside specialists, doctors, nurses and patients in clinical areas. Again, you'll need good communication skills and you'll be up to speed on IT.
In hospitals, pharmacists are really getting to the centre of things. Robots are already being used to dispense medicines and this is freeing up pharmacists to work with patients on the ward and becoming members of the decision-making team across a whole range of specialisms; conditions such as diabetes or heart failure, for example.
When a patient is admitted to hospital, the pharmacist will take their medication history and see the patient every day, check their medicines and discuss their progress with the doctor. When the patient leaves hospital, the pharmacist might then liaise with their GP.
You can choose to take your skills on into management or a clinical specialism, eventually becoming a consultant with similar status to that of a doctor. For example, you might become a clinical director, running the hospital's pharmacy staff and managing areas such as pharmacy, pathology and radiology.
This is where an interest in research comes in; developing gene therapy and nano-medicines, to name just two exciting new areas of medical research. Pharmacists are needed to develop them.
Nano-medicines - the creation of structures 100 nanometres (one nanometre is a billionth of a metre) or smaller in size - are an exciting new development in medicine. Scientists predict that they will soon be applied to disease treatment, targeting key biological aspects of diseases with very low side effects. Industrial pharmacists work alongside scientists who specialise in other areas to discover new ways of combating disease and improving manufacturing and production techniques.
Primary care pharmacists operate at a senior level in the healthcare system. They have a strategic role, making the best use of resources allocated for medicines and ensuring they are well spent. They also analyse medicines and work closely with hospitals, GPs, practice nurses and other community healthcare professionals.
In recent years there has been a big shift in focus within the NHS towards primary care - preventing people from becoming ill and encouraging healthier lifestyles so as to keep them out of hospital. Prevention is better than cure and pharmacists are ideally placed to play their part.
Regulatory pharmacists work for Government bodies such as the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) set up to help protect public health. Their job is to ensure that medicines submitted by drug companies are safe before they can be manufactured and marketed to the public. You need critical evaluation skills for this branch of the profession.
Whether it's teaching, researching, practising or a mix of all three, academic pharmacists enjoy exciting careers in universities and research institutes.
Teacher practitioners spend on average around 60% of their time working in hospital, community or industrial pharmacy and the other 40% of the time as a pharmacy teacher or lecturer.
Alternatively you might like the idea of researching a whole wealth of topics from drug design through to the provision of pharmacy services. As a research pharmacist you will enjoy a rewarding and satisfying career, knowing your work is helping improve countless lives.
Put simply, academic pharmacists are involved in a huge variety of exciting roles, often working on their own initiative.
As a pharmacist you can make a valuable contribution to the welfare of animals by supplying a professional service to pet owners. Since autumn 2005 much more emphasis has been placed by the government on involving pharmacy in the supply of animal medicines and the dispensing of veterinary prescriptions.
More than half of the people who visit a pharmacy own a pet and many of them do not know the correct treatments to give to their cats and dogs for common problems worms and fleas.
Pharmacists in rural settings are often involved in helping the farming industry by supplying medicines for farm livestock.
The pharmaceutical press, other medical and scientific journals, as well as the lay press, employs pharmacists as writers and/or to carry out editorial work. Medical writing may also involve preparation of scientific papers and documents.
Pharmacists working for the pharmaceutical press may be involved in covering scientific meetings or product launches or writing features and articles. Research will often be needed to support written work. Editorial work involves identifying, collating, and presenting suitable material. Writing and word processing skills are vital. While some travel to conferences and interviews may be required, these posts are largely office-based.
There are various posts within the civil service for pharmacists. These include scientific and administration posts within the Department of Health and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. rison pharmacists are responsible for the planning, co-ordination and delivery of pharmaceutical services to inmates, including both dispensing and clinical "ward" services. Most prisons employ trained technicians to assist the pharmacist.
Barriers between the different sectors of the pharmacy profession are gradually blurring. This should offer benefits to patients and other organisations, including primary care groups, interested in improving working arrangements. The Northern Ireland Centre for Pharmacy Learning and Development (NICPLD) offer some joint training, so the separate branches of the profession can learn together. Pharmacists with experience of more than one sector can offer real benefits to employers and enhance their own work experience.
There are many skills which pharmacists have that transfer from one sector to another.
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