Pharmacy isn’t initially what people think of when planning what they want to spend the rest of their lives doing, however due to advice such as “you will have a secure job right out of university”,
many students are led to believe pharmacy is their ticket to instant employment and being an unrivalled asset of knowledge to whoever they work for.
To become a pharmacist, you must typically complete a 4 year MPharm degree that has been approved by the GPhC, followed by a one year pre-registration training course in pharmacy, almost like FY1 for doctors.
This seems fairly straightforward however is it really?
The Degree is Tough!
First things first, you must get through the degree.
Things being difficult is not a reason to not do something, however,
An MPharm degree is a very challenging undertaking, for anyone, and you should only embark on one if you know you are capable of enduring immense academic pressures.
The rigorous curriculum is formed by endless essays, projects, tests, exams, and OSCE’s which for the majority of pharmacy students would mean pulling endless all-nighters, just to stay on top of everything.
Expect your schedule to be jam-packed with laboratory-based work, clinical practice and bedside demonstrations, group work, and seminars, whilst you keep up with the never-ending flow of lectures that you must try to internalise through self-directed learning.
Become very well acquainted with independent study, as this will make up the majority of your workweek.
Pre-registration is Competitive
Well done! Now you have gained an MPharm degree which you should be proud of, However, the journey towards employment has only just begun.
Now that you have a Mpharm you must apply for your preregistration training, which you probably didn’t need telling how competitive it is to get accepted.
More and more pharmacy schools are opening however the shortage of pre-registration placements aren’t being addressed, leaving prospective pharmacy students with fewer and fewer options.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to get placement, just not very easy unless you’re putting in tremendous amounts of effort behind the scenes in anticipation of the limited spaces.
The aim is to make yourself as desirable as possible, and you can do this by getting as much experience as possible before applying for your pre-reg placement.
Summer placements between your degree years and voluntary placements in a pharmacy are a brilliant way to both gain experience and boost your application towards your registration as a pharmacist.
Getting work experience may seem impossible unless organised by your school, but there are certainly ways you can get around this. I have a blog explaining how easy it is to get work experience in a saturated field.
Job Market is Competitive
Amongst all odds, you managed to gain entry into a pre-registration placement and passed all your assessments! You are now a fully qualified pharmacist!
Unfortunately, there is still major competition for job roles within the NHS due to the vast number of qualified applicants.
There are approximately 700 hospital pre-registration posts with maybe 2500 qualified pharmacy graduates a year.
So now you see the issue with increasing matriculation of students onto a pharmacy degree, and even opening new schools when there is already saturation in the jobs market.
Again this is not to say you can’t be one of those 700 who get a job in the NHS. But to be one of them, you must be willing to put in the work to make yourself stand out, no matter the extent.
Other Healthcare Options:
Maybe you don’t want to become a pharmacist. Maybe you appreciate that the degree still provides valuable knowledge, of use somewhere else.
After all many people use their vocational degrees as stepping stones into other avenues.
The problem is, with a master’s degree in pharmacy, you’re either looking at moving into research and hopefully doing a PhD or maybe doing another master in a healthcare field and work from there.
Medicine is another option, however, gaining entry may not be exactly what you think so read more here.
If you feel like healthcare has dealt you a bad hand, it’s never too late to start from scratch and work your way up in a field with better prospects.
That being said, you can always find a way to make things work, just by pivoting slightly and changing your outlook.
You may look into finding work as a clinical research associate, pharmacologist, or changing gears into a very lucrative career in chemical engineering and pharmaceuticals.
My point is you can always make the most out of your incredible breadth of knowledge, but be prepared to put in the work!
Pass Rates, Drop-outs, and Salaries:
Pharmacy dropout rates are around 10% annually around the country, but this isn’t the alarming figure.
Of those who finish their degree and undertake their registration assessment, a whopping 30% will fail the exam, and therefore fail to be registered as licensed pharmacists.
Out of the nearly 3000 candidates that took the assessment in 2019, over 800 failed to pass.
The is however not the end of the line as applicants can resit this assessment. My point is, to embark on this long journey, you must be informed and well prepared for the work ahead.
Not to mention, after working away for several years at your goals, the average NHS salary for a newly registered pharmacist is no more than £19000 a year.
Is it worth it in the end? Maybe, but that’s for you to decide. Certainly beats being skint!
In summary, you should always think carefully about where you will end up when you choose to study a degree. Don’t do one blindly hoping to fall into employment because that rarely happens.
Pharmacy is one of those degrees with a very high barrier or entry, and possibly not very much waiting at the end of the tunnel, but maybe I’m wrong.
Or at least I will be in a few years time.