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Making the most of your pharmacist

5-minute read

What is a pharmacist?

Pharmacists, also known as chemists, are highly trained health professionals. Although one part of their role is to dispense medications prescribed by a doctor, most pharmacists are also able to give a wide range of free, evidence-based health advice.

Most people have interacted with a pharmacist — usually when filling a prescription. Pharmacists also work in hospitals, health centres and wherever medications 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. Then you need to pass the Pharmacy Board of Australia registration requirements and complete an internship with a registered pharmacist.

Pharmacists need to be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) to make sure they meet the requirements for safe and professional practice. They also need to complete ongoing professional education.

Why ask a pharmacist for health advice?

It’s not always necessary to see a doctor, especially for minor health issues. It can also be difficult to get an appointment with a doctor, especially in rural areas. Some GPs provide their service free to patients (known as ‘bulk billing’), but others may require a fee — although a Medicare rebate is available.

While pharmacists are not able to diagnose illnesses, they can give informed advice about what symptoms could mean and treatment options. Pharmacists are very aware of their professional boundaries so they will often refer someone to a doctor for a more comprehensive assessment.

Some people speak with a pharmacist to gain a pharmaceutical perspective on a condition. Another benefit is that pharmacists tend to be conveniently located — most suburbs have at least one community pharmacy.

What services do pharmacies offer?

In recent years, there has been a growth in pharmacies that operate as larger enterprises. Pharmacy chains provide more of a ‘supermarket’ experience. Many pharmacies sell household items, cosmetics and personal-care items as well as medications.

Some pharmacies employ a midwife or child health nurse one or two days a week to provide child health checks and advice. Often, a small area is sectioned off with a baby scale and measuring device to check growth and allow for consultations.

Many pharmacists provide vaccination services, particularly for influenza. Some community pharmacists also offer COVID-19 vaccinations. Pharmacists do not generally offer childhood vaccinations. These are provided by GPs and community health centres.

Some pharmacies provide hearing tests. Staff doing this level of testing are generally not audiologists. If a hearing deficit is detected, they will recommend assessment at an audiology clinic.

Other services a pharmacy may offer include:

What are some tips to get the most support from my pharmacist?

Here are some tips to consider to get the most support from your pharmacist:

  • Make a list of questions you’d have. Try not to feel self conscious about any subject you’re unsure about. Pharmacists are used to giving advice and options.
  • Be prepared to wait for the pharmacist to speak with you, especially at busy times.
  • If you have questions about a specific medication, take the original box or packet with you.
  • Be mindful there are no private spaces in pharmacies to show any physical symptoms.
  • Ask your pharmacist if they have any product information leaflets or suggestions for gaining more information about a drug or treatment.

How can pharmacists help if I’m unsure about medications during pregnancy or breastfeeding?

Most pharmacists have access to the most up-to-date information about medications and potential side effects.

Some medications are not safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Always check with your maternity care provider and a pharmacist before you take any medications.

How can I find a pharmacy near me?

To find a pharmacy in your area, check find a local health service for details.

You could also speak with your healthcare provider, such as your GP or child health nurse, to learn what services are available to you and your family.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021

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