Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand


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What is a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists are the specialists in medicines and understand their composition, chemical and physical properties, manufacture, uses, side effects and interactions with food and other medicines. Pharmacists are able to educate the public in the correct use of medicines and in the maintenance of health. They also provide specialised information to doctors, nurses and other health professionals. A pharmacist must be a registered member of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand.

What do Pharmacists do?

Pharmacists are involved in every aspect of the preparation and use of medicines, from research and development to eventual supply to a patient.

Pharmacists are the link between doctor and patient. Often a pharmacist is the first person to be consulted by a patient as to whether or not a doctor should be visited. Pharmacists may decide that the patient should visit a doctor or that the patient can be treated by one of the many remedies available over the counter.

Pharmacists dispense medicines and advise people how, and when, to take their medicines for maximum effect; how to reduce side effects, and how to use specialised devices such as inhalers, syringes and nebulisers.

Pharmacists usually work as a team with other people and are likely to be responsible for others working with them.

Where do Pharmacists work?

Because of the different careers pharmacists can follow, there is a wide choice of careers open to them after registration. Pharmacists work in community and hospital pharmacy, industry, marketing and sales, Government agencies, teaching, publishing and pharmaceutical related agencies.

What personal qualities should a Pharmacist have?

Almost every pharmacist works with people so it is important that prospective pharmacists like people, are good listeners and can communicate easily.

Pharmacists work within a code of professional ethics that encompasses their relationship with other pharmacists, other health professionals and the public. A well-developed sense of responsibility is essential and an ability to communicate effectively with other health professionals and the general public is important.

Often pharmacists meet people when they are ill or worried, so they need to be caring and concerned for others. Pharmacists maintain a special relationship of trust and confidentiality with their patients.

As with others in the healthcare team, pharmacists' decisions and actions involve human life and well being, consequently tidiness, orderliness and cleanliness are important. They must be constantly vigilant to avoid errors that could endanger patients' lives or reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.

Because they are likely to be responsible for managing staff, they need to be good organisers and administrators to ensure the work is carried out efficiently. Pharmacy provides an opportunity for individuals to be innovative and develop new concepts in practice. It is important that they have the ability to meet the challenges of change.

What qualifications are needed to become a Pharmacist?

All pharmacists must be registered members of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. To be eligible for registration as a pharmacist, an applicant must hold a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (BPharm) and complete the Preregistration Training Programme.

What training is required to become a Pharmacist?

The Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm)

The entry requirements for the BPharm degree are set out in the University Calendars, which are available from the universities.

Pharmacy is a science-based profession and therefore it is useful to have a sound background in science. It is recommended (but not mandatory) that intending students study Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics (calculus or statistics) to seventh form level.

The BPharm degree is a four year course that is offered at the School of Pharmacy, University of Otago, Dunedin and the University of Auckland.

For more details on the courses and the subjects studied contact "The University of Auckland" and "The University of Otago".

What is the Preregistration Training Programme?

After gaining a BPharm if the graduate wishes to practise as a pharmacist they must complete the Preregistration Training Programme of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. This is a competence based training programme which is undertaken whilst the graduate (intern) is working in a pharmacy under the guidance of a preceptor pharmacist. The objectives of the programme are for interns to develop judgement and management skills, which will enable them to apply the academic knowledge they have gained during their degree. Interns learn the skills that relate to the dispensing of medicines and gain skills in communicating with doctors, other healthcare providers and patients.

How long is the Preregistration Training Programme?

The intern is required to complete 52 weeks practical training in a pharmacy concurrent with the preregistration training programme which runs from February to November

Where can an intern carry out their practical training?

All training sites must be approved by the Pharmaceutical Society and the supervising pharmacist (preceptor) must complete an approved training course. Most interns undertake their 52 weeksin a single establishment, either a community pharmacy or the pharmacy department of a hospital. They may, however, spend time in more than one place provided that at least 26 consecutive weeks are served in one place.

What is involved in the Preregistration Programme?

Training for most of the skills, attitudes and knowledge detailed in the competence standards can be provided in all approved pharmacy workplaces and the preceptor plays a major role in this training. In order to be judged fit for registration as a pharmacist the intern must achieve competence in all elements of the competence standards. Assessment is on the job by the preceptor and centrally by the Pharmaceutical Society. Each intern and preceptor is provided with a training manual which outlines the programme and additional training provided by the Society which includes training days to reinforce and supplement the on the job training.

What career prospects are open to Pharmacists?

Pharmacists are found in a wide variety of careers and the final choice depends on the interests and abilities of the individual.

Community pharmacy

Community pharmacists work in an environment that combines professionalism and business. While professional requirements are paramount, the challenges of commerce must be met. These include buying, merchandising, staff training and development. Community pharmacy offers pharmacists the challenge of free enterprise and professional fulfilment. One of the main roles of community pharmacists is the dispensing of prescriptions from doctors, dentists, veterinary surgeons or midwives. The pharmacist must supply precise instructions to the patient ensuring that the patient understands what the medicine is for and how best to use it. Advice is given on any possible side effects that the medicine may cause and also information on storage and expiry dates. The pharmacist should also provide a follow up service to ensure that the patient is receiving the maximum benefit from treatment.

The other main role of community pharmacists is the provision of advice and counselling on the maintenance of good health. Increasing emphasis is placed on "self-care" as the public take more responsibility for maintaining their own health through the assistance of their pharmacist. Most customers seek the pharmacist's advice on medicines to treat minor problems like coughs, colds, stomach upsets and skin problems. Pharmacists, using their professional judgement, will advise and supply a suitable medicine or instruct the customer to see their doctor. Patients can use the services of a pharmacist to monitor their health. Pharmacists undertake blood pressure measurements and other monitoring functions, e.g. diabetic self-care centres, cholesterol testing, etc. While most of a pharmacist's work revolves around customers who present themselves at the community pharmacy, services are also provided to institutions such as nursing homes and small hospitals.

Hospital pharmacy

Pharmacists in hospitals work with doctors, nurses and other health professionals caring for the patients on the wards and in out patient clinics.

Some hospital pharmacists specialise and develop expertise to work with particular groups of patients such as children, the elderly or those with cancer. Age or illness often affects the way that the body systems work so these patients have special requirements and need medicine doses to be calculated on an individual basis.

Pharmacists also have training in the preparation of medicines such as injections or eye drops, which must be sterile i.e. free from microbial contamination that could seriously injure a patient. Cytotoxic injections, which are used to treat patients with cancer, have to be handled under special conditions as they have the potential to be harmful. Other pharmacists prepare intravenous nutrition for patients, after surgery, or who for other reasons cannot take food by mouth.

Other pharmacists are involved in the national network of Drug Information Centres and answer queries from doctors and other health professionals about medicine problems such as side effects, interactions of medicines and the use of medicines in pregnancy. The Drug Information Centre also provides newsletters for the hospital and provides reviews of new medicines for consideration by the Hospital Drug and Therapeutics Committee. Computer databases, medical journals, the internet and reference books are all used to enable pharmacists to provide up-to-date answers.

Comprehensive Pharmaceutical Care (CPC)® or Pharmaceutical Review Service (PRS) pharmacists

These pharmacists have completed additional training and are able to review and monitor an individual patient's medicine use so that the patient receives the optimal benefit from their medicines. The pharmacist interviews the patient and collects a complete record of their medical history, life style and medicine use. They evaluate this information and may develop a plan so that the patient gets the best results from their medicines and has a reduced chance of actual or potential drug therapy problems. The pharmacist works with the prescriber and the patient to achieve optimal health for the patient. The pharmacist if necessary then monitors the patient's progress and provides education, backup and support.

These pharmacists may be employed in a single community pharmacy or act as consultants working on their own or in several different pharmacies.

Advisory pharmacists or pharmacist facilitators

These pharmacists are employed by a group of doctors. They provide information on medicines, and prescribing protocols for the treatment for common conditions seen in general practice. They also carry out background research and develop guidelines for specialised projects e.g. smoking cessation. Advisory pharmacists also carry out analysis of medicine use including costs and make recommendations for more effective use and/or cost reduction of treatment.

Pharmaceutical Companies

Pharmacists play an important part in production work that generally involves planning, inventory control, warehousing, manufacturing and packaging. Pharmaceutical analysis and control ensure that a patient receives a safe and effective medicine. Specific jobs include:

Regulatory affairs pharmacists manage the registration of new medicines. This involves liaison with government agencies to ensure that medicines comply with the New Zealand regulations for quality, manufacturing standards, packaging, labelling and consumer information.

Other pharmacists are employed as Clinical Research Associates and monitor trials set up by pharmaceutical companies to test the effectiveness of new medicines.

Some pharmacists are employed as Sales Representatives and visit doctors, pharmacists and specialists to provide full information on new and existing medicines. Many of these also provide training on the products to pharmacy staff.

Extra qualifications in business or marketing will assist a pharmacist who is interested in the areas of Marketing, Sales and Product Management.

Government Agencies

In New Zealand, pharmacists in the Government are employed the Ministry of Health and Pharmac.

Ministry of Health

The Ministry employs pharmacists in advisory and monitoring roles relating to pharmacy and the use of pharmaceuticals.

Some pharmacists act as Medicine Control Advisors and advise prescribers e.g. doctors and pharmacists on the regulation and control of medicines. They also audit pharmacies to ensure that the pharmacy is operating in accordance with legal requirements and quality standards of practice.

Pharmacists are also employed as auditors who inspect manufacturers of medicines and blood products to ensure that all manufacturing is carried out to the highest standards.

Another role for pharmacists is in the Medsafe division of the Ministry. Some pharmacists work as evaluators and are responsible for the evaluation of scientific data for new medicines. Other pharmacists are employed preparing information which is distributed to other health professionals.

Pharmac is the government agency that manages the expenditure on medicines in New Zealand. Pharmacists, employed as therapeutic group leaders, manage the expenditure on particular groups of medicines and negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.


A small number of pharmacists are employed in teaching or are engaged in research at the Schools of Pharmacy in the Universities. For these positions a postgraduate qualifications is required such as a Master of Pharmacy or a Doctorate.

Other pharmacists are employed in tutoring and assessment of the National Certificates in Pharmacy (Technician and Assistant)

Publishing and computing

Pharmacists are employed by companies such as Adis International, a publishing company that specialises in medical publishing.

Pharmacists use their skills to produce and edit medical and pharmaceutical books and journals, write drug information software and promotional material.

Other pharmacists work with computer companies producing dispensing software and websites.

What other opportunities are available for Pharmacists?

New Zealand pharmacy qualifications are acceptable in Australia and the United Kingdom and many young pharmacists take the opportunity to travel and experience pharmacy in these countries. Other countries may require the pharmacist to complete a further period of study to gain registration in their country.

Postgraduate qualifications are available both on a full time or part time basis through the University of Otago and the University of Auckland. The New Zealand College of Pharmacists also offers postgraduate qualifications.

In any sphere of pharmacy practice it is important that every pharmacist maintains a high standard of practice. This can only be achieved through continuing education, which is provided by the Pharmaceutical Society.

There is an increasing demand for new medicines and different ways of administering present medicines so young pharmacists will face many new challenges with expanded responsibilities and ever increasing opportunities.

For more details

For more details on the BPharm course and the subjects studied contact the Universities direct.

University of Auckland

University of Otago

For information about being a pharmacist call into your local pharmacy or contact the pharmacy department at your local hospital and ask if you can visit and meet with pharmacists.

This information was prepared by the

Pharmacy Industry Training Organisation

PO Box 11-640



© Pharmacy Industry Training Organisation - April 2001