What is a pharmacist?
Pharmacists (also known as 'chemists') are highly trained health professionals. Part of their role is to dispense (give you) medicines that your doctor prescribes. Most pharmacists also offer a wide range of free, evidence-based health advice and other services. This is also true if you are pregnant or need health advice for your baby or child.
Pharmacists work in the community, hospitals, health centres and wherever medicines are provided.
What qualifications does a pharmacist needs to practice?
To become a registered pharmacist in Australia, you need to complete an accredited university degree in pharmacy. You then need to pass the Pharmacy Board of Australia registration process and complete an internship with a registered pharmacist.
Pharmacists need to register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). They also need to meet the requirements for safe and professional practice. All pharmacists also need to complete ongoing professional education.
Why should I ask a pharmacist for health advice when I'm pregnant or a parent?
You don't always need to see a doctor if you have minor health issues. It can sometimes be hard to get an appointment with a doctor, especially in rural areas.
While pharmacists don't diagnose illnesses, they can give advice about what your symptoms mean and treatment options. Pharmacists will always work within their professional boundaries. They may refer you to a doctor who can assess you and/or order medical tests.
If you or your child take medicines (prescribed or over the counter), a pharmacist can help you understand how they affect a health condition. They can also check to see that your medicine is safe for use in pregnancy.
Another benefit of asking pharmacists for advice on medicines is that pharmacists tend to be located nearby. Most suburbs have at least one community pharmacy.
What services do pharmacies offer?
Pharmacists are experts in medicines, and can help you learn about how to take your medicines. Pharmacies offer a range of other services as well, and some are especially helpful if you're pregnant or a new parent.
In recent years, there has been an increase in pharmacies that operate as large businesses.
Pharmacy chains provide more of a 'supermarket' experience. Many pharmacies sell household items, cosmetics and personal-care items as well as medicines.
Some pharmacies have a child health nurse or midwife on staff to provide child health checks or pregnancy care and advice. Often, there is a small area of the pharmacy set aside for private consultations. Some have a baby scale to check your baby's growth.
Many pharmacists provide vaccination services, for example, for influenza ('the flu'). Some community pharmacists also offer COVID-19 vaccinations. Pharmacists do not usually offer childhood vaccinations. These are done by GPs and community health centres.
In some situations, your doctor may refer you for a home medicines review (HMR) with an accredited pharmacist. This is where a pharmacist visits you in your home, reviews your medicine routine and writes a report. Your GP will then work with you to decide on a medicine management plan.
Some pharmacies provide hearing tests. Staff doing this type of testing are usually not audiologists (hearing specialists). If a pharmacist finds a hearing problem, they will recommend a full assessment at an audiology clinic.
Other health services a pharmacy may offer include:
- blood pressure monitoring
- diabetes and asthma care education
- quit smoking programs
- weight loss programs
- contraceptive options
- wound care
Some pharmacies offer document witnessing services.
If you find it hard to get to a pharmacy in person, ask your pharmacist if they offer online ordering and home delivery services.
Many pharmacies across Australia now accept eScripts. These can be especially convenient while you are pregnant, or if you have a newborn baby or a sick child at home.
What are some tips to get the most support from my pharmacist when I'm pregnant or a parent?
Here are some tips that can help you get the most support from your pharmacist:
- When you ask your pharmacist for a medicine or health advice, let your pharmacist know if you're pregnant.
- If you are asking for advice about medicines for your child, let your pharmacist know their age (and their weight if they're a baby or a young child). Also, tell them about any other health conditions they may have.
- Make a list of questions, so you don't forget. Try not to feel self-conscious or shy about any health subject you're unsure about. Pharmacists are trained to give advice about a wide range of health conditions.
- Be prepared to wait for the pharmacist to speak with you, especially at busy times.
- If you have questions about a specific medicine, take the original box or packet with you.
- If you need to show physical symptoms, be aware that many pharmacies do not have private consulting spaces.
- Ask your pharmacist if they have any product information leaflets or can recommend websites where you can get more information about a medicine.
How can pharmacists help if I'm unsure about medicines during pregnancy or breastfeeding?
Pharmacists have access to the most up-to-date information about medicines and their side effects.
Some medicines are not safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Always check with your doctor or a pharmacist before you take any medicine while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
How can pharmacists help if I'm unsure about medicines for my child?
Your pharmacist can guide you on medicines and doses for your child. It is especially important to check with your pharmacist if:
- your child is taking more than one medicine
- your child has a health condition that affects their liver or kidneys
- your baby was born premature
Check with your pharmacist before you give your child any medicine that contains mixtures of different active ingredients (for example, cough, cold or flu preparations) and alternative or complementary medicines, or if your child is prescribed medicines by more than one doctor.
How can I find a pharmacy near me?
Some pharmacies are open outside of normal business hours. The pharmacist on duty may be able to answer health questions when your regular doctor is not available.
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Last reviewed: July 2023