This guide is an overview on the steps to studying pharmacy, getting into university, what it will involve and what happens after you finish the degree.
So for anyone still in school or college, you’ll want to at least have done chemistry. Preferably, you should also aim for a combination of physics, biology and math. Not all will be necessary (I myself managed to get in with just chemistry, maths and biology) but having more than one of these, will improve your chances of getting into the university of your choice.
Since this site is geared towards the UK, I will assume you’re in the UK and want to study the MPharm (Master of Pharmacy) degree in a UK university, which is accredited by the GPhc. Here is an up-to-date list: https://www.pharmacyregulation.org/education/pharmacist/accredited-mpharm-degrees
Outside of the country the rules are completely different, as well as the actual level of the degree. For example, PharmD is the standard in the US. In most countries, the standard is a BPharm (Bachelor of Pharmacy).
With regards to the league tables you’re best placed to check your university of choice on here: https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk
And for a grades target check the Pharmacy undergraduate section of the university’s website.
You will apply as with any course via UCAS and will just need to meet the standard January deadline (not the earlier Medicine/Dentistry deadline). You may be called for an interview.
The majority of students will go on to become pharmacists (around 98%), either working in community or hospital. There is huge demand in those sectors, accounting for the ultra-low unemployment rate for pharmacy graduates 6 months after leaving university.
However there are also various options in industry, academia or regulatory bodies.
- Clinical research associate
- Higher education lecturer
- Medical sales representative
- Product/process development scientist
- Regulatory affairs officer
- Research scientist (life sciences)
- Science writer
There may be opportunities as a research scientist – however, if that is a route you are adamant on going into, you may be best placed to pick a degree such as pharmacology or biochemistry (note: these will not allow you to qualify as a pharmacist).
What the degree involves
Most MPharm degrees will be 4 years long in total. And generally, the first year will be almost to build a foundation – teaching you in-depth physiology and anatomy. You will then follow up in the next years with some of (but not limited to) the following areas
- management and treatment of disease
- the preparation/forumulation of drugs.
- Pharmacy practice and standards
The exact make-up of modules will vary from each university, but the same general guidelines are adhered to, in order to be accredited by the GPhc.
Teaching style & Assessment
Teaching methods will usually entail a mixture of lectures, lab classes, workshops and you may even be expected to do some shadowing in hospital.
Assessments will be done in relation to the module and again, could entail anything from written exams, MCQs, oral presentations, reports and practical tests. When doing my own MPharm degree, I also had a dissertation in the final year for my research project, which counted for a large chunk of the final mark for that year.
Most of the retail chains such as Boots or Lloyds offer summer placement programmes in community which can last around 6-8 weeks. While studying you could apply to these programme, but bear in mind you’ll be competing against your fellow peers and there will probably be a interview process, like any other job. The advantage of getting these placements are that it will really enhance your employability and you could even swing a Saturday job in a pharmacy. The employers tend to also recruit for their pre-registration places, from these programmes.
There could also be opportunities in the NHS in hospital pharmacy, these tend to be shorter programmes and there are less places available.
So as discussed above, there are various options with regards to a career option. However, lets assume you’re in the 98%+ who will go on to work in community, industry or hospital. For either of these, you will need to secure a pre-registration place after finishing your degree.
This pre-registration placement will last one year, will normally be paid and you will have to sit a final exam at the end, which has been set by the GPhc.
The recruitment process will start some time before you actually finish your degree (a year in advance is standard) so you should look into the application process as early as possible.
There will be some differences in recruitment timetables between the NHS and the retail chains – the process has changed a few times over the years, so its always to do your research to make sure you don’t miss out on a placement.
For the NHS
England & Wales – https://www.lasepharmacy.hee.nhs.uk/national-recruitment/#
Scotland – http://www.nes.scot.nhs.uk/education-and-training/by-discipline/pharmacy/pre-registration-pharmacist-scheme/prps-recruitment.aspx
For community placements with the major retail chains – details on their current application process should be on their websites.
You could also find vacancies (including for smaller independents) on Chemist and Druggist, NPA and Pharmaceutical Journal.
When choosing a placement, make sure to get a copy of your employment contract. And be extremely clear about hours, the structure of your work and training arrangements. For specific advice on contractual rights or if you feel something is not satisfactory – you could contact the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or the Pharmacist Defence Association (PDA). The PDA offer pre membership to all pre-registration trainees, so it can be useful to sign up with them.