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‘Why I’m ignoring the critics to pursue a career in pharmacy’

The Student Pharmacist explains why she isn’t put off by naysayers who insist the profession’s golden days are over

I’m not naïve. I know that there won’t be an abundance of jobs at the end of my time studying pharmacy at university – that just isn’t the case anymore, like it allegedly used to be.

The cuts to funding – in community pharmacy and across the NHS – are changing the face of pharmacy, I know that. The advice from some, to us as pharmacy students, is to ‘get out while we can’. But is this really a good idea?

Apparently, it’s a simple equation: pharmacy cuts + more schools of pharmacy = more pharmacists who are paid less.

So, maybe they’re right? To help me make my mind up, I went right back to basics.

The pharmacy degree is typically a four-year master’s degree, with an additional year of pre-registration training, and then a pre-reg exam that needs to be passed at the end. Therefore to become a qualified pharmacist a total of five years of training is required, meaning it’s not a short course.

In the UK there are currently 30 universities offering accredited MPharm courses, and one other university currently undergoing provisional accreditation. So I can see why people think the number of students qualifying with a degree in pharmacy is increasing.

Ultimately, the question prospective, and even some current, pharmacy students may be thinking is: ‘Is it worth it?’

Here’s what I think. First of all, after passing my pre-reg exam, I will qualify as a healthcare professional with a master’s degree, which in itself will open up a multitude of different job opportunities, even if I decide to work in a slightly different field in the end. The skills I’m learning during my pharmacy degree are so transferable and useful to have, whatever I may choose to do.

Pharmacy students often hear that ‘pay isn’t what it used to be’, especially for locum work. But for us as newly qualified pharmacists who will be getting an entry level job, the salary for pharmacists is still very reasonable. This is highlighted when I compare it to some other degrees – and the opportunities available to progress within pharmacy to earn more are still there.

I won’t say too much about the pharmacy funding cuts in this blog. However, I think it is important to remember that despite the cuts, pharmacists and their skills are still very much needed, it just might not always be in the roles they initially expected.

Moreover, even though the demand for roles is increasing, so is the scope of jobs becoming available to pharmacists. These include jobs within community pharmacy, hospital, and research, but also new roles, particularly within GP surgeries, which didn’t even exist a few years ago, yet now are rapidly increasing throughout the country. Roles for pharmacists also exist in industry, academia, business, clinical commissioning groups, prisons and specialist clinics, to name a few more. There are still lots of different locations pharmacists find themselves in.

Pharmacy can also offer a range of working hours, from 9-5pm, to locum work, on-call or fixed-term contracts, so it seems to be a career that can offer a certain degree of flexibility. This could be especially helpful if you have any additional passions or pastimes – and I’ve enjoyed reading C+D and hearing about community pharmacists who also work as a DJ or a Bollywood film producer.

Ultimately, when I think about why I decided to study pharmacy, the driving factors were that I was interested in science and that I wanted to help people. Pharmacists help to improve people’s lives on a daily basis, which sounds like a pretty good bonus to me. Despite it being a time when funding is low and changes are being made, these factors remain key: pharmacists are patient-centred experts in medicine, regardless of the location.

So yes, in my opinion studying pharmacy is still a good idea, despite the current situation. The skills we learn, combined with the variety and flexibility of roles available to pharmacists across so many different locations, are some of my personal highlights. A career in pharmacy appears to not be the restrictive one that I’m sometimes warned about, but one with many different opportunities available, which I can’t wait to explore soon for myself.

The Student Pharmacist is currently studying for her MPharm degree.

C+D has unveiled a new generation of bloggers to report from the different corners of pharmacy. The anonymous writers – the first five of whom will be published each day this week – will shed light on different aspects of pharmacy in 2018. Click here to meet them.

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