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

"Pharmacists help to improve people’s lives daily, which sounds like a pretty good bonus to me"

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.

7 Comments

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

You know what? I've been one of the worst at saying to students 'Find a job worth doing' but reading this has made me think. I reckon what is coming out of me is sour grapes because I'm old, it's too late for me to change career in any way and retirement is not an option. Best of luck to you Ms Student and I hope that you inherit a profession in a good position with a sound future ahead of it. If not.........you have a masters degree. You can still do something different!

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

pharmacy cuts + more schools of pharmacy = more pharmacists who are paid less.

Yes.

pharmacy cuts + drug tariff buying fiasco + rising business costs = pharmacy closures.

pharmacy closures + more pharmacists + supervision changes = consider plan B.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

 

Hi Student Pharmacist.

Whilst the initial salary in Community Pharmacy is comparable to other MSc grads you do have to consider the very limited scope for career progression in CP. This translates for very limited salary progression with time unless you diversify onto the slippery pole of management. You do also have to accept that CP (especially with the Multiples) is far more of a retail environment than a professional one…mandatory commercial targets are near universal. It is a very stressful environment.

Please don’t be fooled by the hopelessly optimistic spin the Universities are telling you for the future of Pharmacy (or almost any other subject). They are only after your £9K/Y and keeping their numbers up. To be very blunt I think it is fair to say that many universities simply lie. Do your own research.

Yes, there are opportunities other than CP for Pharmacy Graduates, but these are fewer in number. If the financial pressures on CP continue and other threats such as remote supervision materialise there will be a large exodus of Pharmacists out of CP. You will be competing with more experienced and better-connected individuals. Salaries in these others fields will inevitably suffer as a consequence.

It is often difficult to admit you have made a mistake when you have invested so much time and money in something like a University Degree course….. but if you think you have made a mistake then do something positive quickly rather than soldiering on and hoping things will get better…..they most certainly won’t and you will always be regretful. As an example, I recently gave a reference to a Pharmacy Student who left at year 3 with a BSc as he saw (as a result of much holiday works experience and personal investigation) the actual realities of a career in Pharmacy. He started a new degree course in September. A setback yes but as he philisophically commented it was not that great when you have the rest of your working life to consider.

Good luck.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I was going to write a long reply, but Clive you have covered everything.  I would certainly emphasise the salary effect of very little progression, and even cuts to hourly rates. Also the near saturation of GP work with older pharmacists escaping from a decade or two of CP. Yes, there are opportunites but there are double the number of graduates than there were 15/20 years ago. I was reading recently that one student said only 10 people in his year of 140 obtained a hospital pre-reg. I understand it is good to have a positive outlook but I am concerned about the basic mis-selling of the degree. This was even raised by Mr Rudkin, from the GPhC. Telling everyone how they can be a GP pharmacist is far from helpful. And talking of careers in Industry.....! Can anyone tell us how many people they can recall from university who now work in Industry? I would imagine you can count them on less than one hand!

But I do wish this student the very best and if there is some area you wish to work in then keep applying and be prepared to move. 

 

 

 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

We would wish ANY student for any course the best of success. As you both state succinctly, the degree course has been 'sold' to students with misleading statements. You would think with 30 universities offering the course, that CP cannot find anyone to fill the ranks.

If students have independently assessed the information, then they have made an informed decision. I have come across many who did not give me this impression (perhaps they were not interested in pharmacy per se but thought the course a 'good' idea for earning a living). People make a choice.

I persuaded a few prospective students to look beyond the 'hard sell' before enrolling. Good luck to them. They decided their future might lie elsewhere.

A RS, Community pharmacist

As a community pharmacist who qualified eight years ago I agree with the points made in your article. Keep a positive yet realistic outlook as you have here. Its not always doom and gloom despite any negatives. Things are continually changing yet often people talk with such over dramatic finality when it comes to any negative news about pharmacy. 'Final nail in the coffin' for the profession etc.

Its best to do your own research, get out there try different roles, find what suits you and come to your own conclusions about your job satisfaction/security.

Chemical Mistry, Information Technology

Naive only time will tell or a optimist or can always go to work in france

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