The best things about a career in pharmacy
We asked two community pharmacists what they love about their job. For Dr Kenny Lee, it was the variety of being a pharmacist, academic and volunteer. For Toni Riley, it was being involved in the RUM (Return Unwanted Medicines) Initiative which has been the catalyst for the environmentally friendly disposal of over 8,000,000kg of medicines.
Pharmacists can literally save a life by ensuring that the combination of medications a patient is taking will not cause harm or even death. Statistics promoted by the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia include that there is a 70% reduction in medication errors when there is a pharmacist in a hospital emergency department. It has been suggested that pharmacist-led education is important in reducing medication errors.
2014 Australian Young Pharmacist of the Year Taren Gill sees many opportunities for the profession of pharmacy to move forwards in the future.
The profession of pharmacy is currently undergoing a transformation at a global level, and that the pharmacists of the future will be using their knowledge of medications in a different way to how it has been utilized in the past. Some people may be excited by this while others find this daunting!
Innovation – More and more programs are being introduced to recognize the important role of pharmacists in healthcare. One of these is the General Practice Pharmacist Fundamentals education program that aims to enhance the integration of pharmacists and community pharmacists within the primary healthcare setting. The Pharmacy Board of Australia and the Australian Pharmacy Council also recently made a joint announcement regarding a revised competency standards.
Recognition – It is possible to be recognized for a significant contribution to the profession and society. Three pharmacists received Queen’s Birthday Honours in July 2017. They were Graham Slade MPS, Kosmas Sclavos, and Harry Jones MPS.
Things you really need to consider before deciding to study pharmacy
My Health Career recommends that you speak to a number of people in pharmacy so that you understand that the future of pharmacy will most likely be very different to the past.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia runs an annual National Student Business Plan Competition for students completing a pharmacy course at university. The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia also runs a leadership program for early career pharmacists who will drive strategy, change and innovation in the industry. These programs are evidence of a profession that is re-creating itself. Australian industry leader Cathie Reid has also asked the question “Is pharmacy facing its Kodak moment?”
Pharmacy is a profession which has had a turbulent time in Australia in the last few years. Reasons for this include:
- Issues around price disclosure, which relates to the profit margins community pharmacies make when they dispense a medication
- Pharmacies looking for ways of making money other than dispensing medications – there have been reports of the abuse of programs such as Medschecks
- Accusations from a national medical group that pharmacy is planning to “plunder primary care”
- Reports that a national pharmacy group is advocating for the removal of penalty rates for community pharmacists who work at nights, weekends and public holidays
- Allegations that pharmacy interns are being overworked and underpaid (this article raised many points of discussion around the considerations graduates need to make before choosing where they will do their internship)
- A lack of awareness of the general public about the difference between medications that are available for purchase in a supermarket compared with those available in a pharmacy
Support system – In a survey supported by Master Research Australia and the Pharmacists Support Service (PSS) to research the stress and wellbeing of pharmacists in Australia, researchers found that pharmacists have a higher level of stress compared to the general population. To aid in helping pharmacists all over Australia, the Pharmacists’ Support Service vows to continue working with a variety of organisations in the health industry.
What do pharmacists do and where do they work?
In this video Professor Lisa Nissen also covers the knowledge that pharmacists have:
Most people are aware of the area of community pharmacy – this is a “shopfront” pharmacy such as an Amcal, Priceline, Chemmart, Guardian, Terry White or Chemist Warehouse. Community pharmacists spend a lot of time assembling and labelling products, monitoring prescriptions, giving non-prescription medicines advice and doing prescription medicine counselling.
Pharmacists may also give advice to elite athletes about which medications are on the banned substance list.
In the future community pharmacists could play a more pivotal role in reducing the abuse and misuse of prescription medications, via real time reporting of addictive medicines being dispensed. Jack Hammond points out that pharmacists are like the “police” of the prescription industry:
After a process that has taken a number of years and included a trial in Queensland in 2014, in 2015 there was a national rollout of a course training pharmacists to administer vaccines. Some rural community pharmacies have been very successful in filling in the gaps in health care in their communities.
Some pharmacists have become successful businesspeople. For example, in 2014, Canberra pharmacist Samantha Kourtis won two major awards, 2014 Pharmacy of the Year and Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year. Another winner, named in the National Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2011 is Cathie Reid, who advocate for wearable technology in healthcare, and sees applications for technologies such Google Glass in pharmacy.
As with many areas where it has been proposed that health practitioners other than doctors prescribe medications, this has been an area of controversy in pharmacy. Another area where there has been some controversy is in the use of dispensing robots. Click here for the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia’s statement on the use of these robots.
Due to the fact that there are a limited number of community pharmacies in Australia, pharmacy graduates may need to look at different career paths, including:
1. Hospital pharmacy
Here the pharmacist’s role includes reducing medication errors and ensuring that medications are being used appropriately. Click here for the article “a hospital pharmacist hits the wards” by Matt, a Victorian pharmacist. Click here for the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia’s position statement on the role of the hospital pharmacist in an interdisciplinary team.
2. Industrial pharmacy
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society says that if you are interested in working on a medicine and not face to face with patients, this might be the right industry sector for you.
3. Primary care pharmacy (also known as being a practice pharmacist)
This often involves working out of a general practice but spending some time on the road doing Home Medicines Reviews which can be repeated for the same patient every 2 years. Practice pharmacists may never dispense a single medication. Click here for an account of the role of a primary care pharmacist. It has been said that the expansion of this model of pharmacy practice depends on the remuneration. Please note that pharmacists who want to work in a general practice may need to create their own position in the clinic, as currently these may not be formal jobs that are advertised. Research suggests that patients may be becoming more open to having a pharmacist as part of their care team in a general practice setting.
4. Academia / research
Although it is possible to go on to complete a PhD without doing honours, this is generally the exception, not the rule. In this article, PhD candidate Kenny Lee gives his view on what he learned during the first 2.5 years of his PhD.
5. Non-traditional areas
Examples of pharmacists working in non-traditional roles are listed in the second half of this article.
Are pharmacy graduates getting jobs?
In 2003, it was predicted that there would be a shortage of pharmacists in Australia that would continue beyond 2010. In under 10 years there was an increase from 6 to 19 schools of pharmacy in Australia, and for a number of years overseas pharmacists were allowed to move to Australia to live and work. By September 2012, it was reported that there was no shortage of pharmacists in Australia, but evidence of a maldistribution with more in metropolitan areas.
According to the 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal, of those who completed undergraduate pharmacy degrees in 2015, 95.5% were in full time employment that year, and 93.0% of this cohort were employed as professionals 3 years later in 2018.
According to the 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey-Longitudinal, of those who completed postgraduate pharmacy coursework in 2015, 91.5% were employed full time in that year, and 92.4% were in full time employment 3 years later in 2018.
Statistics such as a 97.2% full time employment rate (source Graduate Outcomes Survey 2018) of graduates are often misquoted in the profession of pharmacy when this actually represents the percentage of pharmacy graduates who go on to be employed as interns in their mandatory pre-registration year before becoming a fully qualified pharmacist.
According to the Pharmacy Board of Australia, in December 2013 there were 24,867 pharmacists with general registration in Australia, which grew to 28,769 by December 2018.
For more details:
- Australian Job Outlook – pharmacists
- 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey
- 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal
- Pharmacy Board of Australia registration data
- 2014 – Australian pharmacy workforce in focus
- 2014 – 4 different career paths from recent pharmacy graduates
- 2013 – Are there jobs out there for pharmacists?
Since this video was recorded in 2012, the scope of practice of pharmacy has expanded, giving pharmacists a wider range of employment opportunities:
ATAR for pharmacy
Click here for the ATAR for every pharmacy course in Australia in 2018. The ATAR range was between 65.00 to 91.05.
How long does it take to become a pharmacist?
It depends on which pathway you take to become a pharmacist, but the minimum is 5 years including the mandatory 48 week intern year.
Please go to our pharmacy infographic page for more information on the pathways to becoming a pharmacist.
How much money do pharmacists earn?
According to the Graduate Outcomes Survey 2018, intern pharmacists in their pre-registration year had a median income of $47,000 per year.
According to the Australian job Outlook in early 2019, pharmacists in Australia had an average income of $69,368.
In 2018 the statistics on myfuture state that full time employed pharmacists earn an average or $75,452 per year excluding superannuation.
According to 2015 GradStats data, pharmacists completing their intern / pre-registration year had a median income of $42,000.
Videos about a career in pharmacy
Click here to go to our videos about a career in pharmacy from real pharmacists.
Click here for the latest news about pharmacy.
Career information from professional associations
Go to this page and click on the links from there.
Thumbs up image: digitalart – freedigitalphotos.net
Kodak image: www.freedigitalphotos.net
Photo of Cathie Reid courtesy of Cathie Reid, and photo of Chris Freeman courtesy of Chris Freeman.
This page was last updated in March 2019.