Support people’s health with a job as a pharmacist
Find out about career options for pharmacists in Aotearoa
A mix of science, helping people, communication
Are you a good communicator who’s also interested in science and helping people? Consider a career as a pharmacist.
Pharmacists prepare, mix and dispense prescribed medicines. They advise patients about their medicines and health, and offer services such as blood pressure checks and vaccinations.
But it’s not just all about the medicines – communication and relationships are also a key part of the job.
A job for good communicators
“We're talking to the patients, we're talking to prescribers, we're talking to other team members in the pharmacy,” says Hamish, a pharmacist at Queen Street Pharmacy in Upper Hutt.
“You've got children, you've got elderly and everything in between. You need to be relatable and make connections with patients because the more connections you make and the better the rapport you have with patients, the better health outcomes they're going to receive.”
For Hamish, being a pharmacist is all about building relationships and making a difference in people’s lives.
“Often you get to form really good relationships with patients as they come and go, to get to know them and how their families are.
“When a patient comes in sometimes they've got no idea what their condition is or what their medication is. I really love to try and make that patient's therapy a little bit better. It's enjoyable and sometimes you do make a real difference.”
Watch a video about working as a pharmacist
Spend at day at the pharmacy with Hamish and find out what his role involves. 5.47 mins
Hamish: My name’s Hamish. I’m a pharmacist and I work at Queen Street Pharmacy in Upper Hutt.
So a pharmacist broadly is a medicines expert. We’re the guys that indorse or promote the safe use of medicines, and the appropriate use of medicines. We also triage patients.
Okay so there’s definitely some bumps.
How long have they been there for?
To ensure that if we don’t have the skills and knowledge to treat them, we refer them onto others and we’re educators as well, so we educate patients on their treatments and therapies, regimes, just to make sure that they get the best use of their medicines and the best health outcomes.
Queens Street Pharmacy in Upper Hutt - it’s a community pharmacy so we’re one of actually a couple of pharmacies in Upper Hutt but I would argue that we’re the busiest.
We work between two medical centres. So we get a lot of prescriptions from each of those. But a lot of what we do is dispensing medicines. Thankfully at this pharmacy we’ve got technicians, so they do a lot of the paper work.
They do a lot of orders, so when I come to work every day, my priority is just making sure that the medicine treatment is safe and appropriate for that patient and that it's correct so that each patient gets the right medication.
It usually starts crusting over after about seven days but you want to continue for two weeks after it's gone as well to make sure that fungal infection stays away.
We also counsel them on that medication, we're making sure that they understand what that medication is for, how to use it and just any side effects or anything they might need to be aware of.
If it's getting worse and spreading, pop back and see us.
So pharmacists provide free health care information. So you can come in off the street.
Like in here kind of things as well?
Yeah, is it up here?
I do definitely think it's a bit of eczema.
Before you go to the medical centre, we get a lot of patients that come in just to check with us. If it is beyond our skills and knowledge then we do refer them on for a more thorough assessment.
Hamish: Did the doctor see them at all?
So it could be worth just popping into the after-hours clinic.
Hamish: Okay so just a routine blood pressure check today is it?
We also do a lot of consultation services. Patients come into the pharmacy for the oral contraceptive pill, trimethoprim, which is a urinary tract infection antibiotic. We do vaccinations. We do nicotine replacement therapy. We do quite a few services and that's all about just improving access to health care in New Zealand. Besides that we do lots of advice and counselling about common conditions. So head lice, eczema, hay fever, colds, flus, you name it, we do a lot of that as well.
To be a pharmacist you need to be very organised and on top of everything all the time. There is lots of communication in pharmacy. So we're talking to the patients, we're talking to prescribers, we're talking to other team members in the pharmacy.
Has she seen the doctor yet and how long has it been?
So she's not vomiting, there's no other symptoms is there?
With patients we've got so many demographics. You've got children, you've got elderly and everything in between. You need to be relatable and make connections with patients because the more connections you make and the better the rapport you have with patients, the better health outcomes they're going to receive as well. They're going to listen to you and they're going to take your advice and take that on board and practice that advice. You are going to have good days and bad days. Sometimes you're going to get yelled at - that's unavoidable. Some people are scared, some people are angry so you need to learn to discuss things with those people as well.
Pharmacists are accountable for every decision that we make and also the decisions of people in our team as well. Every decision we make or what we do needs to be justified by law and ethics.
There's a lot of laws and ethics. Pharmacy hours do vary. Pharmacy can be a nine-to-five job. Often community pharmacies are open late as well so there's after-hours pharmacies. I do a little bit of both.
Today for example I'm working one to nine so that we can cover those patients that need treatment after hours as well.
Queen street pharmacy Hamish speaking.
So that morphine it's meant to be ten day supply at a time.
So there's lots of different types of pharmacies. Studying to become a pharmacist, the first year is first year health science. You really need to focus because it's competitive entry to get into pharmacy or one of the other medical professions. The second, third and fourth year is pharmacies. Its four years in total at university and then the final year to become a pharmacist is an internship.
You've got a preceptor who watches you and sees everything you do and signs you off as a competent pharmacist. As for the study itself, its very science based so in high school if you're thinking about chemistry and biology, but everything you will learn anyway at university.
You need to be enthusiastic and committed to learning. Key things are just working really hard and making sure that you're keeping up to date with the content. In pharmacy like most other health professions there is a process of continued education. So we are what you call lifelong learners and every year we do have certain requirements that we need to maintain in order to get our practicing certificates and every three years we've even more again so we're constantly learning and updating our knowledge and practices to make sure that patients get the best healthcare they can.
Pharmacy is constantly changing as we've got this ageing population, increased burden of long-term conditions. People are getting older. They've got more non-contagious diseases. We've got increased strain on the healthcare system so we're having to get smarter, more efficient. For pharmacy what that means is pharmacists stepping out of the dispensary. We have to do more consultations. We have to broaden our services so that we can meet increased needs of the community and maybe take away some of the burden from prescribers and hospitals. It's just constantly changing so stay tuned.
Let's try to clear this place up.
I really enjoy making a difference in people's lives. Often you get to form really good relationships with patients as they come and go, to get to know them and how their families are. When a patient comes in sometimes they've got no idea what their condition is or what their medication is. I really love to try and make that patient's therapy a little bit better. Everything lights up for them when you finally talk them through everything and they've come back and they are taking their medications properly now where they weren't before. It's enjoyable and sometimes you do make a real difference.
Job opportunities and training
Chances of getting a job as a pharmacist are good.
To become a pharmacist, you need to:
- complete a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Auckland or University of Otago
- complete a one-year internship at a hospital or community pharmacy
- register with the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand.
As a pharmacist you could work in a community pharmacy (a chemist shop), a public hospital, in universities and polytechnics or the pharmaceutical industry.
Find out more
Updated 22 Mar 2022