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Pharmacy apprenticeships: What are they and how can I do one?

How do medicines get from the factory to your bathroom cabinet? Who makes sure you get the right dosage?

If you’re fascinated by questions like this, a career in pharmacy could be for you. Did you know you can train in a paid job straight from school or college? In this article, we’ll explore pharmacy apprenticeships could be the first step in a career in medicine.

'Pharmacy apprenticeships could be the first step in your career in medicine'

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What is a pharmacy?

A pharmacist heads up a pharmacy team made up of support

staff and technicians

A pharmacy is a place where medicines are stored, prepared and given out to patients according to their doctor’s instructions.

In charge of the running of a pharmacy is a pharmacist, who needs to have a master’s degree. Working with the pharmacist are a team of support staff and pharmacy technicians, depending on the size of the practice.

Pharmacy apprenticeships can prepare you for a career as a pharmacy technician, and for roles in pharmacy support.

An apprenticeship is a paid job with practical training in which you’ll work towards qualifications to help you do your job. You will do your apprenticeship through your employer – the pharmacy – who will support you to do your training.

Pharmacy support apprenticeships

Pharmacy support staff help pharmacists prepare and dispense medicines. You’ll have a job title like pharmacy assistant, dispensing assistant or medicines counter assistant. Tasks could include:

  • Taking in prescriptions and handing out medicines.
  • Accepting deliveries and handling stock.
  • Selling over-the-counter medicines.
  • Offering advice on common ailments.
  • Answering customer queries over the phone and in person.
  • Preparing and labelling medicines.

In this video, Jacques talks about his role as a pharmacy assistant:

Pharmacy support staff work in GP surgery and hospital pharmacies as well as pharmacies on the high street or in supermarkets.

What qualifications do I need?

Pharmacy support apprenticeships are available at the intermediate level, meaning they are equivalent to getting 5 GCSEs. You may need C+/4+ GCSEs in maths and English to get on to a pharmacy support apprenticeship. Sometimes, it might be possible to work towards a functional skills qualification which gives you essential numeracy and literacy during your apprenticeship.

What skills do I need?

Pharmacy support staff need:

  • Excellent attention-to-detail.
  • A methodical approach to your work.
  • An ability to follow laws and regulations, and sense of responsibility.
  • Good communication and customer service skills.
  • An interest in health.

What will I do on my apprenticeship?

As well as gaining practical experience at work and training with more experienced colleagues, you’ll complete one or more vocational qualifications such as a level 2 NVQ or diploma. This provides the theory you need back-up your work and means you’ll be assessed for key skills such as customer service.

You could cover:

  • The laws and regulations governing pharmacy.
  • Health and safety as it relates to your job.
  • How to assemble prescriptions.
  • How to create supporting documents for your work.
  • Making sure you have enough ingredients and medication in stock.
  • Teamwork and customer service skills.

Pharmacy technician apprenticeships

Pharmacy technicians keep track of stock, measure out

ingredients and make up medicines

The position of pharmacy technician is a more advanced role within the pharmacy team. It includes many of the tasks of a pharmacy support worker, as well as some more technical duties helping the pharmacist preparing medicines.

As well as accepting prescriptions and dispensing medicines, pharmacy technicians:

  • Choose the correct medicines which make up a prescription.
  • Weigh liquids and count out tablets according to the GP’s instructions.
  • Measuring out ingredients and putting together medicines.
  • Making sure prescriptions are legal.
  • Creating labels instructing people how to take their medicines.
  • Handling confidential patient information.

Like a pharmacy support worker, you could work in the pharmacy in a GP surgery or hospital, or on a high street, supermarket or department store.

What qualifications do I need?

To train to be a pharmacy technician, you’ll need to take an advanced apprenticeship, which is equivalent to getting 2 A-levels. You’ll need 5 GCSEs at grades C+/4+ to get on to a pharmacy technician apprenticeship.

What skills do I need?

Pharmacy technicians have a very responsible role, so you’ll need:

  • Good attention-to-detail.
  • The ability to follow instructions, and understand and follow laws and regulations.
  • A methodical and responsible approach to your work.
  • Excellent teamwork, communication and customer service skills.

What will I do on my apprenticeship?

You’ll gain experience at work and learn from more experienced colleagues, working directly with the pharmacist. You’ll also complete vocational qualifications such as NVQs or diplomas at level 3, learning the theory behind your work. You’ll also be assessed on workplace skills such as customer service and teamwork.

You could cover:

  • Dealing with customer queries.
  • Filling prescriptions.
  • How to order and manage your pharmacy’s stock of medicines and ingredients.
  • Providing advice on common symptoms, how medicines work, and how they should be taken.
  • Checking that prescriptions are correct and legal.
  • Ethics and practice surrounding pharmacy.
  • Technical aspects of your role, including microbiology, physiology and pharmaceutics.

Where can pharmacy apprenticeships lead?

You can begin an intermediate pharmacy apprenticeship after

completing your GCSEs

A dispensing assistant or pharmacy assistant could train to be a pharmacy technician – either by beginning another apprenticeship or taking the relevant vocational qualifications.

Pharmacy technicians could progress into a particular area of medicine, such as cancer drugs or medicines for children. Pharmacy apprenticeships can lead you to specialise in a particular area of medicine management, such as the manufacture (making medicines), quality control, clinical trials or training other pharmacy staff.

What will I be paid?

According to the National Careers Service, pharmacy support staff can expect to start on about £14,000, although you may earn less during your apprenticeship. You could earn up to £20,000 in this role, but don’t forget you could may be able to train as a pharmacy technician.

Technicians start on around £19,000, although pharmacy apprenticeships don't usually pay this much. A highly experienced pharmacy technician could earn up to £31,000.

If you want to start a career in healthcare, check out our Medicine & Healthcare Career Zone to find out about the different paths open to you – and what you need to do to get there.

Image credits

Lead image by cornecoba via Freepik

Pharmacist via Flickr

Pharmacy technician via Flickr

Two girls in lab via Flickr