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Working as a hospital pharmacist

Hospital pharmacists are experts in the field of medicines.

Advice

They work closely with medical and nursing staff on the wards to ensure patients receive the most appropriate treatments, and provide help and advice to patients in all aspects of their medicines. They advise on the selection of medicines as well as the dose and route of administration for individual patients, and many are qualified to prescribe in their own right. They provide information about potential side effects and ensure that new medicines are compatible with any existing medication. In addition, they will often monitor the effects of treatment to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Hospital pharmacists are also responsible for the purchase, manufacture, dispensing, quality testing and supply of all medicines used in the hospital, although many of these activities are undertaken by other members of the pharmacy team such as pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants.

Medicines expert

As the medicines expert, hospital pharmacists provide advice to other healthcare professionals on the effects a medicine or combination of medicines may produce. They also offer advice on dosage and suggest the most appropriate form of medication such as tablet, injection, ointment or inhaler. Liaising with medical staff on the potential problems patients may experience with their medicines is also a critical part of their role.

Specialist advice

Hospital pharmacists offer specialist advice to patients with conditions such as heart, kidney or liver disease, and for pregnant or breastfeeding women. They work with patients to help select the most appropriate therapy, taking account of factors such as existing medication, medical history, lifestyle, the patient’s beliefs and wishes, and their ability to understand and adhere to a treatment plan. This interaction with patients means good communications skills are essential.

In the medicines information department, pharmacists use a range of reference sources to provide detailed information to healthcare professionals and patients about all aspects of medicines usage. Electronic databases and the internet are used increasingly to source information. New drugs are evaluated and compared to existing treatments before the hospital decides whether to purchase them.

Manufacture

Pharmacists are also involved in manufacturing medicines when ready-made preparations are not available. For example, certain cancer treatments and intravenous feeding solutions need to be tailor made under sterile conditions for individual patients.

Specialised roles also exist in other areas such as procurement (purchasing), radiotherapy, quality assurance, clinical trials and education.

Management and team working

Many pharmacists combine their professional role with some form of managerial responsibility such as managing a particular aspect of the pharmacy service or other members of the pharmacy team. Some are involved in monitoring and reporting on expenditure from the budget for medicine usage within the hospital.

Most hospital pharmacists are involved in a range of activities and work with a variety of healthcare staff and NHS managers, so team working, together with the ability to communicate well at all levels, is essential.

Accuracy and attention to detail are important, as is the ability to use your science background when solving problems.

Some experienced hospital pharmacists working in advanced roles are able to meet the criteria needed to be recognised as consultant pharmacists. These are expert practitioners who work in regional or national roles and, as well as their role in patient care, are involved in teaching and research. Consultant pharmacists help to develop and identify best practice, working with other advanced practitioners and service managers.