Undertaking a pharmacy assistant apprenticeship will develop your knowledge and skills in many key areas, from dispensing procedures to legislation requirements. It will also provide you with the qualifications you need to pursue a range of career options.
In this article, we talk about:
- What you’ll learn in level 2 and level 3 pharmacy apprenticeships
- What career options will be available to you after completing your apprenticeship
- The entry requirements for pharmacy apprenticeships and how to apply
In this post:
Overview – Earn While You Learn
If you’re not pursuing full time education, or you’re already employed but want to improve your academic qualifications, an apprenticeship program such as a pharmacy apprenticeship assistant could be an excellent option.
This program gives you the chance to earn while you learn, with the option to pursue an equivalent degree program. Being a pharmacy assistant apprentice involves more than just helping out around the pharmacy; you’ll need to know the classification of different medicines and how to dispense them based on prescriptions.
You’ll also be immersed in the actual work environment of a pharmacy, and will get the benefits of a regular employee, such as a salary, sick leave, and holiday. By working with more experienced employees, you’ll be mentored in pharmaceutical practices while also learning soft skills, like customer service, which is crucial for a pharmacy assistant.
What You Will Learn As A Pharmacy Apprentice
During a pharmacy assistant apprenticeship, you’ll learn about all the practical work that goes on behind the scenes. Some of the practical experience you’ll gain includes:
- Preparing medicines
- Pre-packing and labelling medicines
- Fulfilling prescription orders for customers
- Managing deliveries
- Over-the-counter transactions
- Dealing with customer queries, in-person or over the phone
- Communicating any issues with the pharmacist
- Assisting in manufacturing medicines
You’ll also learn technical skills, using the pharmacy’s computer system to order goods, create stock lists and labels, input confidential patient information, and check patient history. However, what you learn will depend on which apprenticeship level you’re undertaking.
Level 2 Pharmacy Assistant Apprenticeship
This apprenticeship course is more focussed on supporting pharmacy services, such as helping in the preparation and assembly of prescription items, issuing them, answering queries, and advising patients on how to properly take medicines.
Some of the things you’ll learn during a level 2 pharmacy assistant apprenticeship are:
- Dispensing procedures
- What the different types of prescriptions are
- How to receive and log and prescriptions
- Pharmacy calculations, like the number of tablets needed
- The medicine supply chain
- What issues could affect how a medicine is taken
- Legislation requirements and organisational policies
- How to work within the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the pharmacy
Level 3 Pharmacy Technician Apprenticeship
This course is similar to the level 2 course, but with a stronger focus on the skills you’ll need to pursue a career as a pharmacy technician. Some of the key skills you’ll learn during a level 3 pharmacy apprenticeship course include:
- How to accurately assemble prescriptions and medicines
- How to undertake accuracy checks of prescribed items
- What action to take if discrepancies are found during accuracy checks
- How to ensure patient confidentiality using principles of clinical governance
- How to check the validity, safety, and clarity of requested medicines
- How to optimise a patient’s medicine and when you would do this
- How to use the pharmacy’s computer system to ensure the safe management and supply of prescription items
- How to communicate important information to a patient about their prescription so that they understand and can make informed decisions
Over the course of a pharmacy assistant apprenticeship, you’ll complete vocational qualifications designed to improve your understanding of the theory and knowledge behind what you’re doing. In fact, around 20% of your time on an apprenticeship program will be spent studying and training for the job.
The qualifications you’ll earn could include the Level 2 NVQ in Pharmacy Service Skills, the Level 2 BTEC in Pharmaceutical Science, or the Level 3 Diploma in Pharmaceutical Science.
Level 2 NVQ in Pharmacy Service Skills
The Level 2 NVQ in Pharmacy Service Skills is designed to improve your knowledge on key areas of pharmacy work, including meeting patients’ needs, teamwork, health and safety, how to prepare and issue prescriptions, and how to correctly order, manage the deliveries of, and store pharmaceuticals.
Some of the work you’ll need to do to earn this qualification is:
- Assist the pharmacy team with fulfilling patient needs efficiently
- Learn how to assemble and issue prescribed items
- Order, receive, and maintain pharmaceutical stock
- Carry out in-process accuracy tests to ensure prescribed items have been properly assembled
- Learn how to create supporting documents for your work
- Understand the laws and regulations pertaining to pharmacies
Level 2 BTEC in Pharmaceutical Science
This qualification will give you a broad range of career opportunities by teaching you employable skills and knowledge. You’ll carry out much of the same work as in the NVQ Level 2 qualification.
Both the NVQ Level 2 and the BTEC Level 2 qualifications are equivalent to a GCSE. In general, a level 2 apprenticeship in pharmacy focuses on service skills and pharmacy science, particularly the classifications, effects, and dosages of medicines. On the job, you need to develop the following skills:
- Be accurate and methodical
- Be responsible
- Having a good attention to detail
- Be able to understand law and guidelines on medicines
- Be able to follow instructions precisely
- Be able to explain clearly to customers the effects and side-effects of medicines
If you pass your level 2 pharmaceutical assistant apprenticeship, you could be given the opportunity to earn your Level 3 Diploma in Pharmaceutical Science, which is the equivalent of an A Level qualification and is designed to give you the skills and knowledge required to become a GPhC (General Pharmaceutical Council) registered pharmacy technician.
If you pass the apprenticeship program satisfactorily, you might have the opportunity to be hired as a regular employee at the pharmacy. Depending on the level and the credentials you already have, you can finish your apprenticeship between one to five years.
Course Entry Requirements
The basic entry requirements for any apprenticeship course or programme in the United Kingdom are the following:
- At least 16 years of age
- Residing in the UK
- Not a full-time student
- Willing to be trained on the job
Additional requirements may vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction, academic institution, industry, and specific company. For example, the entry requirements for an apprenticeship as a pharmacy assistant will vary depending on the pharmacy and level of apprenticeship:
- Level 2 pharmacy apprenticeships typically require a GCSE in maths and English at grades A*-C
- Level 3 pharmacy apprenticeships typically require 4 GCSEs in maths, English, and two science subjects, at grades A*-C. An NVQ Level 2 or BTEC Level 2 qualification may also suffice
A Level Qualifications Required
In some fields, like engineering, chemistry, and other sciences, A level qualifications or equivalent apprenticeship academic accomplishments, like the Level 3 Diploma in Pharmaceutical Science, are required.
Maths, English, and science subjects are necessary to be accepted on A level-equivalent apprenticeships, like technical and clinical apprenticeships. This is because they require a deeper knowledge of science.
Career Options When You’ve Completed Your Apprenticeships
Once you’ve completed your apprenticeship as a pharmacy assistant, you’ll be able to pursue a range of career options, such as a pharmacy technician. This role will involve similar work as that carried out in your apprenticeship, but with a stronger focus on the preparations of medicines.
From a pharmacy technician, you’ll have the opportunity to progress into multiple career paths. Jobs that a pharmacy assistant apprenticeship can pave the way for include:
- Research pharmacist
- Clinical technician
- Healthcare specialist in, for example, oncology or clinical trials
- Pharmaceutical development scientist
The career options you’ll have will depend on several factors, such as the educational level equivalent you earn during the apprenticeship. In most cases, an apprentice is hired directly by the company they carried out the program with. As a pharmacy assistant apprentice, you may initially be hired to work in the same pharmacy as a regular employee, though you may also be able to find work in clinics or hospitals.
In England, more than 1,500 apprenticeship jobs are available, and many of these are related to pharmacy careers. Most career options are largely technical or clinical jobs that require high levels of work proficiencies. Around 70 universities and 200 colleges are approved to provide higher and degree apprenticeship programmes in partnership with various companies and institutions.
How to Apply
The easiest way to apply for an apprenticeship as a pharmacy assistant is to respond to job vacancies. Pharmacies will post any available apprenticeship positions on their website, or on third-party job sites, where they will list the specific entry requirements and roles of the job. If you think you fit the bill, fill out an application and make sure to follow up on the progress.
Alternatively, you can also use the government portal to search for apprenticeships. To do this, you need to first create an account. After that, it’s as easy as following the necessary steps and submitting your application.
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