Are you thinking of studying Pharmacy?
Pharmacy is the study of medicine, looking at how drugs are created, their chemistry and interactions, and everything else a qualified pharmacist is required to know.
For students who are interested in medicine but for whom becoming a doctor does not appeal for whatever reason, Pharmacy can be an excellent alternative. Pharmacists are increasingly a part of NHS frontline services, as patients are encouraged to ask pharmacists for help with minor ailments before going to their GP or A&E – which means that a pharmacist can help immensely in taking pressure off the emergency services, thereby contributing to saving lives in more ways than might seem initially obvious. The job also has the advantage of more regular hours than many alternative healthcare careers, which may be a source of appeal for those who want to contribute to helping people medically but who also want a more structured lifestyle than medicine or nursing can offer.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
The start of a Pharmacy degree (which is usually four years, leading to an MPharm degree) is focused on giving students a solid foundation in the fundamentals of pharmaceutical sciences, covering medicine, chemistry, biology, ethics and training in professionalism. As Pharmacy is a patient-facing profession, you will start to model patient scenarios early on, and you may have placements in different parts of the NHS.
In later years, the focus of the degree shifts from its theoretical foundations to practical, patient-orientated study, including looking at specific diseases and medicines. You will look closely at good practice in real-life Pharmacy situations to develop your professional skills and maximise patient benefit. You will address the law and ethics of Pharmacy, and you may look at Pharmacy from a business perspective. You will spend a lot of time on placements of different kinds. You may also have the opportunity to carry out a research project of your own.
What do I need for a Pharmacy degree?
ABB is the absolute minimum grade requirement, but straight As will be the norm among Pharmacy students. As with Medicine, having work experience is an advantage.
Chemistry is a compulsory A-level and at least one more science is required. Students taking Chemistry, Biology and Maths at A-level will find themselves well-prepared for a Pharmacy degree.
Additionally, Pharmacy students will require a criminal records check.
What skills will I acquire?
The majority of skills that you will acquire relate directly to Pharmacy. You will acquire extensive knowledge of medicines, including their design, manufacture and effects, as well as knowing how to operate pharmaceutical instrumentation. Additionally, you will develop very strong professional skills in terms of interacting with patients, such as effective communication.
Regarding transferable skills, your high level of organisation and ability to work carefully, accurately and methodically in all circumstances is highly valuable. You will gain problem-solving skills. You will also be able to consider multiple perspectives from business concerns to ethics and law. The research project that you are likely to carry out in your final year will equip you with the ability to carry out independent research and present your findings.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Overseas travel is not usually part of a pharmacy degree. The placements you will go on may require some travel, but this is likely to be relatively close to your university.
However, there are plenty of opportunities for travel after your degree. Pharmacists are highly employable anywhere in the world (though the language barrier may prove restrictive) and for those with a sense of adventure, Médecins Sans Frontières also has vacancies for pharmacists.
What careers are possible with a Pharmacy degree?
97% of Pharmacy graduates are employed as pharmacists. These divide into two main groups: hospital pharmacists and community pharmacists. Other options include research, whether in universities or in industry, although for those who are considering research as an option before studying may wish to consider Pharmacology rather than Pharmacy. Further study is relatively unusual among Pharmacy graduates, though those wishing to move into research areas may choose to study for a further Masters or a PhD.
If you are thinking of studying Pharmacy, you may also wish to consider:
- Pharmacology – this related degree focuses more on the theory behind the provision of medicinal drugs, instead of the practical focus of Pharmacy, and leads more naturally into research or industry.
- Medicine or other subjects allied to Medicine – this will depend on which aspect of healthcare you are more interested in and suited to.
- Chemistry (especially Biochemistry) – if you are interested in the science behind Pharmacy, but perhaps want a degree that doesn’t lead so directly into a particular profession.
A final thought on Pharmacy
Pharmacy seems like a relatively unexciting degree choice. However, pharmacists play a vital role in healthcare provision. They act as one of the most important checks on physician error, act as a backup or alternative to GPs and hospital visits, and generally provide an essential service in keeping people well.
If this does not seem persuasive, there are other factors to bear in mind. Pharmacists are highly employable all over the world – they often appear on governmental lists of professions to be given preferential treatment in immigration processes – and a vanishingly small amount of Pharmacy graduates are unemployed. A pharmacist’s starting salary may well be higher than that of a junior doctor and rises rapidly with experience. To round this off, pharmacists have excellent job security – making this a very appealing path to take for anyone with the aptitude.