Hemant Patel: Be a crucial part of the healthcare system

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The Independent Online

A career in pharmacy is a rewarding one. Pharmacists play a crucial part in healthcare in many different settings including local pharmacies, NHS and private hospitals, local and national health service management, in the pharmaceutical industry and within universities and colleges. Pharmacists also working in specialist areas such as veterinary pharmacy and the armed forces. Others go on to careers in government departments and specialist agencies. Whichever path you choose, a career in pharmacy offers flexibility, variety, opportunity, satisfaction, reward and security.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) is the professional and regulatory body for all pharmacists working across England, Scotland and Wales. It also regulates pharmacy technicians on a voluntary basis. The RPSGB is responsible for a wide range of functions to ensure that pharmacists are competent and fit to practise. These functions include setting the standards for pharmacy education and training, keeping a register of pharmacists, maintaining professional standards, ensuring good practice and dealing with poor performance and misconduct.

In 2005, as part of its role in developing the profession, the RPSGB published new pharmacy careers material and launched a new website www.pharmacycareers.org.uk aimed at attracting students of school age to consider studying pharmacy at university.

There are currently 22 schools of pharmacy in the UK and most are looking for students with A-levels in chemistry, biology, mathematics and physics. Pharmacy students take a four-year Master of Pharmacy degree course, followed by a year of paid pre-registration training within a pharmacy. Finally, to register as a pharmacist pre-registration trainees must pass the RPSGB's registration exam. For those who pass, the career choice is extensive with three of the most popular routes being community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and primary care.

With nearly six million visits a day across the UK, community pharmacists work at the frontline of healthcare in the high streets of cities, towns and villages. But don't be fooled into thinking this job is all about being stuck behind a counter dispensing medicines. Pharmacists are becoming involved in prescribing decisions and are becoming prescribers themselves.

Being a hospital pharmacist means being part of a large multidisciplinary team. Working with doctors and nurses, hospital pharmacists can attend ward rounds and increasingly are involved in selecting and advising on the treatments for patients. They also help patients get the best out of their medicines. With the annual NHS drugs bill topping £11bn, good medicine management is vital.

The NHS focus is shifting ever more towards primary care, preventing the need for hospital treatment by educating people to live more healthily and helping patients to manage their illness. This change has created opportunities for pharmacists interested in playing more strategic roles within their local community. Primary care pharmacists work closely with GPs, practice nurses and other healthcare professionals, as well as with local hospitals to ensure best use of medicines and resources.

If you want to be part of a profession that is involved in every stage of the healthcare process from research and development through to frontline care, then your future could be in pharmacy.

Hemant Patel is President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
For more information on careers in pharmacy visit www.pharmacycareers.org.uk or email careers@rpsgb.org