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Unexpected career opportunities for pharmacists

Find out where a pharmacy degree can take you
We spoke with the Head of School and Dean, a super successful alumnus and a current student to get the lowdown on what a career in pharmacy looks like, some of which is not what you would expect.

Pharmacy is a foundation degree that can provide you with plenty of rewarding career options in many different areas.

Photograph of Professor Andrew McLachlan outside the pharmacy building

Professor Andrew McLachlan

"It’s a smart choice for smart people broadly interested in health, science and wellbeing," says Professor Andrew McLachlan, Head of School and Dean of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney.

Pharmacists are the third most trusted professionals in Australia, behind doctors and nurses and ahead of school teachers, high court judges and engineers.1

Like many other members of the profession, Professor McLachlan was inspired to study pharmacy because of his own positive experience with his much-loved local community pharmacist.

"I was always impressed with the way he could make everyone feel special, but also, communicate very effectively about medicines and health issues. He could put my mum at ease and he could explain things to me, even when I was very young."

A pharmacy degree will help you make a difference in people’s lives, whether that be through a career as a community pharmacist, at a hospital, in business, government or in the armed forces.
Professor Andrew McLachlan

Professor McLachlan says pharmacy is about people and communication, as well as the application of pharmaceutical sciences (including chemistry) and information about medicines and health.

"Medicines can treat illness, prevent problems and improve health. But to use medicines safely and effectively really does require effective communication about the best evidence, balancing benefits against possible harms."

He is grateful to have experienced several pharmacy career paths, including community pharmacy, an active research career, service on government expert committees, consulting for pharmaceutical companies and 12 years in a hospital role.

He says pharmacists play a vital role as the medicines expert in the hospital healthcare team. And, unlike what many people would expect, sometimes it can involve very little dispensing of medicines.

Pharmacists are also sought-after members of research teams. "The skills that make you a good pharmacist also make you a very good medical researcher."

Another important role is influencing Government policy and setting the agenda around the safe and appropriate use of medicines.

"The best example of someone following this career path is University of Sydney alumna Dr Lynn Weekes, who recently stepped down as chief executive of NPS MedicineWise. She is an outstanding pharmacist who used all her skills to influence health care, the quality use of medicines and medicines safety," says Professor McLachlan.

Photograph of Matthew McCrone

Alumnus Matthew McCrone

Another University of Sydney alumnus who is making a mark on medicine safety is Matthew McCrone, the Director of the Victorian Government’s real-time prescription monitoring project. Matthew and his team are seeking to inform doctors and pharmacists about a patient’s previous prescriptions to avoid potentially harmful medicines.

"It’s about keeping everyone safe. It’s something that has been needed for a very long time," says Mr McCrone, who found his pharmacy niche in government after stints as a community pharmacist, pharmacy partner and a hospital pharmacist.

"Studying pharmacy was a good choice," he says. "It equips you broadly. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I am able to lead such an important project that has such a real consequence for improving public health."

He has held several crucial positions, including a 10-year stint at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), head of medicines regulation at the Victorian Government and head of the state task force set up to legalise medicinal cannabis.

But he says this project is an "absolute career highlight".

As Mr McCrone reaches his milestone, University of Sydney Masters student Jennifer Ly is just starting her career journey and grasping every opportunity that comes her way.

Photograph of Master of Pharmacy Student Jennifer Ly

Jennifer Ly

"The reason I chose to study pharmacy is to educate and empower patients with knowledge about their medications and conditions," says Ms Ly, who has completed a Bachelor of Science with a major in pharmacology at the University of Melbourne.

She is excited about becoming a pharmacist and has already initiated research that has been published and presented at conferences.

"There are so many opportunities from year one to be involved with the profession and get an idea of what the role of the pharmacist is, and where it can take you," says Ms Ly, who has a part-time role as a research assistant at the NSW Poisons Information Centre.

"Pharmacy has a very supportive network. Everyone’s willing to help each other and enhance the profession together."

"The pharmacy academics at the University are so approachable and always willing to help you succeed – their passion for pharmacy carries across and encourages you to achieve your own individual career goals."

Her advice to anyone considering a pharmacy degree: "It’s important to recognise that pharmacists are not confined to traditional career paths in hospital or community pharmacy. The broad set of skills that you learn in pharmacy – your problem solving, your critical thinking, your attention to detail – can be applied to so many different areas."

"Seeing the real difference that pharmacists can make in patient care, through their roles in community, hospital and policy, has made me become more passionate about pharmacy. I’m confident that it’ll translate into my practice and help me empower patients to become more proactive about their healthcare."

1.  Image of Professions Survey 2017, Roy Morgan, viewed 21 August 2018,
21 August 2018