How to Become a Pharmacist

Kate Onissiphorou

by Kate Onissiphorou

5th January 2022

A pharmacist, also called a chemist in the UK, is a professional who has the training on how to properly prepare and dispense medicines. They ensure that patients get the proper dosage of medications prescribed by their doctors. Most pharmacists work, of course, in pharmacies, but some also work as pharmaceutical chemists in pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, where they formulate and test drugs.

If you’re wondering how to become a pharmacist, there are several things that you should be aware of. You need to know about the necessary educational qualifications, training, and skills that you’ll need. You must also be familiar with the routine duties of a pharmacist. 

What Does a Pharmacist Do?

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals that complement the roles of physical therapists, surgeons, dentists, obstetricians, paediatricians, psychiatrists, and nurses. However, unlike other professionals in the medical field, pharmacists also have an indirect role in treating ailments.

As a pharmacist, you can work in private companies, such as pharmacies, private hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, but you can also find opportunities in government and international non-governmental organisations.

No matter where you work, however, the duties of a pharmacist can generally be summarised as follows:

  • Dispensing drugs or medications

Pharmacists mainly dispense medicines based on doctors’ prescriptions. However, they can also provide suggestions about alternative medicines if a customer asks. Some drugs require special preparations that only a certified pharmacist is qualified to do.

Two pharmacists working in a pharmacy

Pharmacists dispense medicines according to prescriptions from your GP

  • Providing guidance to patients or customers

Pharmacists can provide guidance on the side-effects, risks, and dosages of drugs. They may also recommend over-the-counter drugs for some minor ailments such as coughs, colds, toothaches, headaches, and bowel movement problems.

  • Keeping records of drug inventories

Pharmacists need to have encyclopaedic knowledge of various types of drugs in terms of the following:

  • Brand names
  • Generic names and categories
  • Formulations or active ingredients
  • Side-effects and risks
  • Interactions with other drugs
  • Proper dosage and preparations
  • Specific indications for particular ailments

Based on these details, a pharmacist makes sure that they have a proper storage and inventory system for drugs and other medications. Pharmacists also organise the drugs. Typically, a computerised database is used to update the inventories and records of sales, as well as keep track of regular registered customers.

  • Responding to emergency calls

A pharmacist may sometimes be called to respond to emergencies. For example, a heart attack victim may immediately need their prescription drug, and in some cases, pharmacists may also perform house calls to deliver vital medicines.

  • Works in a laboratory

Some pharmacists work as laboratory technicians or scientists. In these positions, they formulate and test drugs, facilitate clinical trials of drugs, and may also do random batch samples of pharmaceutical products for quality control.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacist?

A bachelor of science (BSc) degree in pharmacy from a university or college is necessary to become a pharmacist in many countries. The total years it would take to earn a BSc pharmacy degree slightly varies depending on the country or territory. It may also vary depending on the university’s programme, so always double check when you’re applying.

In many countries, it may take three to four years to earn a college degree. Professional or licensure examinations are also given to BSc pharmacy graduates to become certified professionals.

Here in the UK, however, the system is different; you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in pharmacy (MPharm) at university. This is a different type of master’s degree because it does not require a BSc degree as a prerequisite. It’s a five-year degree programme that combines academic and practical training.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Pharmacist?

  • Science aptitude

First and foremost, you must have a good aptitude for science if you want to become a pharmacist. A strong grasp of chemistry and biology is essential. You also have to earn good grades in mathematics. Although the admission requirements of different universities may vary, you need to have at least A level qualifications and five GCSEs, with a focus on science.

  • MSPharm

To be successful as a pharmacist, you’ll need to have good logical and critical thinking skills. If you’re admitted to a university for an MSPharm degree program, you’ll also need a good memory to remember the various categories and names of medicines. At the same time, you need to be analytical in solving theoretical problems such as drug chemical interactions.

  • On-the-job training

For the first four years of university, you’ll study theoretical concepts and laboratory skills. The last year involves on-the-job training, which is called a foundation training year. This is paid work for one year and trains you on the job.

  • Professional certification

After you pass the foundation year, you can then apply for professional status with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). If you pass, you can legally practise as a pharmacist.

Where Do Pharmacists Work?

Pharmacists mainly work in pharmacies, either as employees or as proprietors. Some pharmacists choose to go into business as pharmacy proprietors if they have the capital.

On the other hand, pharmacists also work in hospitals and in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, while others may choose to teach in universities and do scientific research. Additionally, pharmacists can work as consultants, as government employees, or as employees of international non-governmental organisations.

Two pharmacists in a lab with a microscope and samples of drugs

Some pharmacists work in labs and undertake scientific research into new medicines

How Much Do Pharmacists Make?

Pharmacists are among the highest paid chemistry professionals, especially those who specialise in more advanced research. The compensations for pharmacists may vary based on the industry, education, and experience. It can be divided into the following groups:

  • Entry level or band 6: £31,365 to £37,890 per year
  • Mid-level or band 7: £38,890 to £44,503 per year
  • Senior level or band 8a to 8d: £45,753 to £87,754 per year
  • Most senior level or band 9: £91,004 to £104,927


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