What is Pharmacist Practice?

The practice of pharmacy is about the manufacture, supply, and effects of medicines.  Pharmacists facilitate patient access to appropriate medicines and advise on their use.

The profession includes pharmacists, pharmacist prescribers, intern pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and retail pharmacy assistants.  See here for the Scopes of Practice.  Pharmacists work in varied roles utilising core pharmacy skills and are integral to the “healthcare team” which safeguards the nation’s health.

The Pharmacy Council regulates pharmacists (under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act (HPCAA) 2003), by ensuring high standards of competence in pharmacists and ensuring public wellbeing through safe pharmacist practice.   It is a legal requirement for all practising pharmacists, to be both registered, and hold a current annual practising certificate.  Pharmacy technicians and retail pharmacy assistants are not covered in the regulatory function of the Pharmacy Council.

Pharmacist Roles Are Varied

Community Pharmacists

Situated in the cities, shopping malls and rural towns the community pharmacy is familiar to everyone. There are over 1100 pharmacies in New Zealand, which are visited every day by thousands of people to have their prescriptions dispensed or to buy pharmacy-related products. Over 50 million prescriptions for medicines are dispensed each year.  Pharmacists conduct many patient consultations but refer to other health professionals when necessary.  In addition to advice on appropriate use of the prescription medicines, they also offer health and well-being information, and supply over-the-counter medicines for minor ailments.

Hospital Pharmacists

One of a hospital pharmacist’s most important jobs is to help patients understand their medication and answer questions when necessary.  Pharmacists work collaboratively alongside doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, to provide advice on the best choice of medication, optimal doses, how medications work, possible side effects and interactions with other medications.  Often working in specialist areas such as cardiology (heart health), oncology (cancer) or mental health, hospital pharmacists play a key role in making sure the medication used during a patient’s hospital stay is evidence based, safe and effective.  They will follow up to ensure there are no adverse reactions and that new medications are working.

Pharmacists in General Practice

Some pharmacists work in general practices (also known as medical centres) as a member of the community health care team. They work together with patients, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to help ensure medicine use is safe and effective. Some have areas of specialty knowledge/experience, e.g. diabetes or asthma and they may be pharmacist prescribers.  Typically, a pharmacist in general practice would have a role that includes:

  • meeting with patients to ensure they have the knowledge and information they need about their medicines and health conditions.
  • recommending medicine changes to a doctor or consultant if problems occur, e.g. unwanted side effects, dose adjustments, different medicine.
  • contacting patients recently discharged from hospital to explain changes made to their medicines and/or follow up needed.
  • providing information and advice about medicines to doctors and nurses and may participate in medicines-related quality improvement activities in the practice.

Prescribing Pharmacists

Pharmacists who have completed extra post-graduate study at university, can become pharmacists who prescribe prescription medicines.  Pharmacist prescribers often work in hospital or general practice settings, but others work at marae clinics or at rest homes.   Working collaboratively alongside doctors and other health professionals, pharmacist prescribers use their extensive training and knowledge to ensure patients have continued access to their prescription medicines.

Pharmacists in industry

The pharmaceutical industry is responsible for the synthesis and research of new medicines, and the production and marketing of proven medicines.  Pharmacists are involved in every step of the process.  Opportunities in research and development are limited in New Zealand because most of this is carried out overseas, however there are opportunities for pharmacists working in formulation, quality assurance, product information and marketing.

Pharmacists outside of the square and going places

While the majority of pharmacists work in community or hospital pharmacy roles, increasingly, many are utilising their unique skills, knowledge, and perspective to improve healthcare in New Zealand from positions outside of these traditional roles.  These roles may not include direct patient contact or the dispensing of medicines. Roles that pharmacists in New Zealand are currently working include:

  • Medicines information
  • Health informatics
  • Healthcare provision as members of the Defence Forces
  • Aged residential care
  • Public health
  • Medicine safety
  • Research and academia
  • Clinical studies
  • Border control
  • Wholesaling
  • Interfacing between primary and secondary care