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Pharmacy Assistants

What is a Pharmacy Assistant?

Pharmacy assistants work with pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in community pharmacies. Although not involved in the dispensing of medicines pharmacy assistants are important members of the pharmacy team as they are generally the first point of contact for pharmacy customers.

A pharmacy assistant must be able to advise customers on the most suitable health and beauty requirements to suit their needs. The assistants make the selection based on their knowledge of these products and of when to refer the customer to the pharmacist or other health or beauty professional.

What do Pharmacy Assistants do?

For pharmacy assistants an important responsibility and one that probably takes up most of their time is advising customers on health and beauty requirements.

There are variations between individual pharmacies and a pharmacy assistant's tasks may also include the following:

  • creating in-store and window displays
  • providing beauty treatments eg. manicures
  • managing loyalty clubs
  • promotional activities
  • providing basic first aid
  • attending to telephone enquiries
  • managing the presentation and storage of merchandise
  • house-keeping duties
  • managing stock ie. ordering, pricing, inventory control
  • banking and basic bookkeeping
  • selling photographic products and services

Personal qualities

As a pharmacy assistant you must be interested in people. Much of the work involves dealing directly with customers who are sick or in need of personal health advice so you need to be:

  • caring
  • a good listener
  • able to communicate easily with a wide range of people
  • patient
  • reliable
  • trustworthy
  • willing to learn
  • able to follow set protocols/guidelines
  • interested in health and beauty
  • clearly focussed and results orientated

All these qualities will be further developed as part of your training.

Why become a Pharmacy Assistant?

  • the work is interesting and varied using a wide range of skills
  • to be part of an essential health service
  • there are excellent career opportunites

What skills do you need?

You will have lots of opportunity to learn on the job but it may help you to get your first job in pharmacy if you have:

  • Customer service skills
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Experience handling money

What qualifications are needed?

You can work as a pharmacy assistant without any special qualifications because most pharmacies provide training on the job and many cosmetic houses and pharmaceutical companies provide short training courses for pharmacy staff. However increasingly employers are looking for people with qualifications. Further, the more knowledge and skills you have the greater the job satisfaction because you are able to use that knowledge to assist more of your customers.

What qualifications are available?

The qualification for pharmacy assistants is the National Certificate in Pharmacy (Assistant) registered on the National Qualifications Authority Framework. It is designed for people working or intending to work in community pharmacies.

A second qualification the National Certificate in Pharmacy (Technician) is also registered on the National Qualifications Framework and the link between the two is designed to provide a career path within the industry. This means that If you decide later to train as a pharmacy technician you will be able to cross credit many of the unit standards from your National Certificate in Pharmacy (Assistant) towards the National Certificate in Pharmacy (Technician).

How can you gain this qualification?

There are two ways you can gain this qualification

  • Study full time for 1 year at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Academy New Zealand or Southern Institute of Technology where the programmes combine classroom learning with on site pharmacy experience
  • Earn as you learn with a combination of on the job learning and experience and a distance learning self paced programme of the relevant theory and knowledge through The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Some of the general work skills units and the first aid units can be completed by people not working in a pharmacy. However to complete pharmacy specific units regular access to information on pharmacy products and services is needed.

What do you study?

The qualification includes a broad range of units dealing with all aspects of the job. Included are pharmacy specific skills and knowledge as well as personal development and general work skills.

The pharmacy specific units cover:

treating minor ailments, diet and nutrition, wound management, optical products, sporting injuries, home health care, managing infections and parasitic diseases, handling potentially hazardous goods and legislation concerning pharmacy.

Other units studied deal with:

customer service, self management and personal presentation, communication with customers and other pharmacy staff, stock management, visual merchandising, workplace health and safety, first aid, advising on and selling beauty care and cosmetic products.

How long is the training programme?

The length of time taken by a student to complete the training programme will depend on the student's ability, motivation and interest. As it is a self-study programme it is up to students to determine their own progress. It has been estimated that an average student in full time employment and studying after work will take about three years to complete the programme.

What are your career prospects?

Once you are working as a pharmacy assistant there will be plenty of scope to develop the skills and knowledge required. With experience there will be opportunities for further responsibilities and specialisation. These may include;

Department supervisor/manager having responsibility for certain areas of the pharmacy such as the photographic department, particular cosmetic franchises or a section of the pharmacy, for example the vitamins and nutrition section.

Store buyer. Pharmacies carry a wide range of products, all of which have to be purchased from suppliers. A buyer has the important task of deciding which products the pharmacy will stock and in what quantities.

Store manager and staff supervisor are positions more often available in large pharmacies with many staff members. A staff supervisor is responsible for the training and supervision of other staff.

Promotions manager with the over all responsibility for coordinating in-store promotions.

Pharmacy Technician. Many people who begin their career as pharmacy assistants later go on to train as pharmacy technicians.

Sales representative. Companies who sell to pharmacies may employ experienced pharmacy assistants as sales representatives.

How do you get started?

First approach local pharmacists in your area and ask if you can spend some time in the pharmacy to get an idea of what working as a pharmacy assistant is like. You may even be lucky enough to find one who will offer you work after school and at weekends.

Next if you are at school talk to your careers advisor about the National Certificate Qualification. It may be possible to complete some of the units while still at school.

Then prepare your CV and a covering letter saying why you want to become a pharmacy assistant. Look out for jobs advertised in the newspaper or at the New Zealand Employment service or approach pharmacies directly asking if there are any jobs available.

Where can you find more details about the training programmes?

The Open Polytechnic of NZ

Bay of Plenty Polytechnic

Academy New Zealand

Universal College of Learning (UCOL)

This information was prepared by the

Pharmacy Industry Training Organisation

PO Box 11-640



© Pharmacy Industry Training Organisation - April 2001