Moving from retail to industry: a letter to all pharmacists

Journey, man walking down road in watercolour

Dear pharmacists,

This is a short but sweet tale of a young pharmacist’s journey through retail and into industry.

My decision to leave community pharmacy and join the industry was the most daring and challenging one I’ve ever made. I knew that I needed a change, but I didn’t understand the other options that were available to me. I can imagine many of you reading this may feel the same way I once did. I want you to know that you are not alone, and I hope that this tale will inspire you to explore the other options that are available to you. You’d be forgiven for asking why this post is styled as a letter. This letter is written for you.

Starting off in community pharmacy

Like many fresh-faced pharmacy graduates with a little entrepreneurial flair, I imagined I would one day open my own chain of retail pharmacy stores. I knew the challenges facing retailers, and it soon became obvious just how difficult it would be to operate a sustainable independent retail pharmacy in the face of increased funding cuts and rising competition.

I turned my attention to first building a career in retail. I landed a job as a relief pharmacist with the UK’s biggest pharmacy retailer, where I excelled and was soon promoted to store manager. This was followed by several further management roles in larger and more demanding stores. I enjoyed success in my roles, but discontent bubbled under the surface. I enjoyed interacting with patients and managing the store, but the hours felt longer, the workload felt strained, the patient care seemed rushed, and the paperwork made it feel less clinical and more administrative. I stopped enjoying my role.

Gaining new skills outside of pharmacy

I started exploring careers in industry and came across regulatory affairs. This profession involves teams of people who utilise science, regulatory and business skills to get medicines from the production line and bring them to the market. I took a short break away with my family, which gave me time to reflect and gain perspective, and on the journey home I had made my decision — to leave.

I spent the next couple of months sending applications and my CV to several recruiters in desperation for any available positions. One agency called me to say that, although they appreciated my enthusiasm, I should stop emailing them as I just didn’t have enough experience for any of their available positions! I continued to locum to keep up my skills and an income.

During my research, I stumbled across TOPRA (the Organisation for Professionals in Regulatory Affairs), an organisation made up of professionals specialising in companies’ regulatory activities. In my last-ditch attempt to succeed in a career side-step, I signed up for membership and paid to take one of their ‘Basics’ workshops on regulatory affairs. As I saw it, no employer could fault my dedication, even if they thought my experience questionable.

Jumping to medicines regulation

I came across an entry-level position at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). I prepared my application, which led to an interview, and two months later I packed my bags in Manchester to head for London to start my new career!

I still work for the MHRA, and my current role is pharmaceutical assessor. My job is to assess applications for drug licences using my regulatory and pharmaceutical knowledge to determine whether they are safe for supply and distribution in the UK. Each application is different, which makes my job varied and very interesting. This role and my previous positions in regulatory advisory teams at the MHRA have given me a good understanding of regulations guarding the licensing of medicines in the UK and Europe. My managers encourage my learning and development, and there are always opportunities for gaining new knowledge and skills with e-learning courses, in-house training and CPD seminars.

Yes, pharmacists are facing challenging times with funding cuts, increased competition for jobs and the uncertainty of Brexit, but this should not discourage us from exploring alternative career paths. As pharmacists, we have a unique set of valuable skills and for those of you who are searching for something else, I urge you to do some research. You never know where you might find yourself working in 1 or even 20 years’ time!

Best wishes to all of you,


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Moving from retail to industry: a letter to all pharmacists;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20204247

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