In most cases, embarking on a career in the healthcare sector requires many years of highly specialised study, as applicants are often expected to obtain a variety of demanding qualifications before they can even think about applying for a role.
For those seeking more of an entry-level healthcare role that nevertheless offers a number of important responsibilities, a job as a pharmacy assistant could offer an ideal solution. Unlike many other NHS jobs, becoming a pharmacy assistant requires no special training in advance, but still offers a number of potentially exciting opportunities.
Although pharmacy assistant work offers plenty of its own challenges and responsibilities, it can be a great option for those who missed out on the opportunity to train for a more technical role, but still wish to contribute to the health and wellbeing of their local communities.
Pharmacy assistants work as part of a pharmacy team under the direction of a registered pharmacist, with their work encompassing a range of important responsibilities, including the handling and dispensing of prescriptions; using computer systems to generate stock lists; taking care of orders; managing deliveries; selling over-the-counter medicines and answering customer queries, whether face-to-face or over the phone.
The work can also involve the direct manufacturing of medicines when ready-made preparations are not available, such as certain cancer treatments or intravenous feeding solutions, which need to be produced for individual patients under sterile conditions.
As such, pharmacy assistants play an essential role in the smooth running of a hospital, community or retail pharmacy-based healthcare team, coordinating with other professionals from various backgrounds to make sure the needs of patients are met.
Entry requirements and skills
As mentioned, the job of a pharmacy assistant is unusual within the healthcare sector, as there are no set entry requirements or specific qualifications that need to be obtained before applying. However, the position remains an important one with considerable margins for error, so a good general standard of education and a strong understanding of the law surrounding medicine usage are all considered important.
Good literacy, numeracy and IT skills will also generally be expected, while relevant work experience is also preferred, meaning those who have previously worked in a customer service role are likely to have an edge.
In order to thrive in this kind of career, pharmacy assistants will be expected to be accurate and methodical, with a strong sense of responsibility and an attention to detail, as well as being able to understand complex instructions and relay information precisely to members of the public. Above all else, a sincere interest in people's health is essential.
Pay and conditions
Generally speaking, pharmacy assistants can expect to work standard hours of around 37.5 hours per week, which may include shift work, spread over seven days. During this time, they will be given the training they will need to be a member of the pharmacy team, including instruction on health and safety, use of IT systems, manufacturing medicines and dispensing prescriptions.
For those working within the NHS, starter salaries will be in the range of £14,000 to £17,500, rising to £18,000 to £20,000 for those with more experience. It is also possible to find work as a pharmacy assistant for private employers, including high street pharmacy chains, with terms and conditions for these roles varying depending on the organisation.
People who thrive in pharmacy assistant roles will have a number of possibilities open to them to take their careers further. Over time, they may be offered the chance to study for a number of relevant qualifications, including an NVQ level 2 in pharmacy service skills or a BTEC level 2 in pharmaceutical science, both of which could open doors that lead to other career opportunities.
Experienced staff often move up into team leader or supervisor roles, in which they oversee the work of other assistants; alternatively, they may wish to apply to train as pharmacy technicians, a more advanced role that deals with managing the supply of medicines and offering assistance with advisory services.
As such, there are many ways in which a job as a pharmacy assistant can be a viable first step in a long and rewarding career within the healthcare sector.