Are you responsible, personable, interested in health, computer-savvy, and attentive to detail? Are you also someone who takes direction well? Can you show empathy to others while working within legal regulations?

If you think you can tick all those boxes, then a career as an over the counter assistant in a pharmacy may be for you.

Working as an over the counter assistant in a pharmacy is varied, fulfilling, and rewarding.

You’ll be part of a busy team whose combined expertise and effort help educate the public about health and wellbeing.

How? By providing info, advice, and distributing prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Let’s explore this career path in a little more detail…

What’s a Pharmacy Over the Counter Assistant?

A pharmacy assistant is a crucial cog in the wheels that run a pharmacy. They’re often the face of the pharmacy. But, they can work in many different settings. For instance, a hospital, clinic, supermarket pharmacy, and so on.

They’re flexible in their approach and are sometimes required to work at different times and days. A pharmacy assistant usually works under the direction of a registered pharmacist. Or, sometimes a pharmacy technician.

What Specific Tasks Does an Over the Counter Assistant Carry Out?

An over the counter assistant typically performs most of the following daily tasks:

  • Answering questions from customers face-to-face and on the phone
  • Completing relevant pharmacy paperwork
  • Delivering prescriptions, if you work in a hospital setting
  • Dispensing medicines to customers once the pharmacist has fulfilled them
  • Ensure the pharmacy is compliant with relevant regulations and pharmacy policies. Namely, by keeping an eye on the prescription filling process
  • Liaising with healthcare providers
  • Maintain electronic patient information
  • Maintaining stock lists and ordering items as required
  • Maintaining drug stock under the pharmacist’s supervision
  • Ordering pharmacy items
  • Packaging prescriptions
  • Passing prescriptions to the pharmacist to fulfill
  • Preparing billing information for medications, where relevant
  • Making labels for prescription packages
  • Referring customers to the pharmacist for medical advice
  • Selling over-the-counter medicines
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) news and regulations.
  • Stocking pharmacy shelves
  • Taking in deliveries
  • Using a cash register

The above list isn’t exhaustive. But, it gives you a brief overview of the tasks an over the counter assistant does during the course of their work.

Although over the counter assistants help the pharmacist with prescriptions, they’re not allowed to handle medication directly. If they do handle medicines, they can only do so under the supervision of a registered pharmacist.

In this instance, your role might be more administrative. As such, this leaves the pharmacist to carry out the remedial work.

You’ll Work Closely with the Pharmacist

Some of the duties we’ve just outlined are performed under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

For example, helping the pharmacist prepare and dispense a prescription for a customer.

You’ll not only be responsible for that but also being the “face” of the pharmacy. By this we mean, passing the prescription to the customer. Then highlighting any particular aspects of the medication the customer needs to know about.

Boasting strict attention to detail is also crucial. Registered pharmacists are busy, so errors occur. After all, they’re only human!

For example, you may have to count out and pour medications. Needless to say, it’s essential this is done accurately. You might also receive prescription orders that need inputting onto the pharmacy computer. Again, this needs to be error-free.

You may also liaise with external healthcare providers. For instance, GPs, dental surgeries, hospitals, and clinics. This is important for ensuring any prescriptions they’ve issued are accurate.

In short, you’ll play an essential part in reducing the likelihood of human errors.

Do Over the Counter Assistants Give Medical Advice?

You’ll be trained (see below) to offer advice to customers who come to the pharmacy for info on common medical complaints.

For example, someone may want advice on over-the-counter medication for a temperature or a cough.

You’ll also sometimes have to refer customers straight to the pharmacist for medical advice. Namely, when the questions are more complex.

The Importance of Customer Service

You’re often the face of the pharmacy. When a pharmacy hires an over the counter assistant, they’re looking for more than someone to operate the cash register.

You’re often an ambassador for the pharmacy. That’s in addition to being the first port of call for customers.

It’s vital you’re personable, have an open but professional manner, and can field different types of customers and queries.

You may already have some customer service skills you acquired in a different role. Don’t underplay these; they’re still important. So, if you’re considering a career as an over the counter assistant, make a list of all the relevant work experience you have.

For example, if you have a background in retail or other experience where you’ve worked with members of the public. That’s gold! This will undoubtedly come in handy!

The point we’re making is, you must show a commitment to helping customers. It’s imperative you give them the best possible customer service…and with a smile to boot.

Is Confidentiality Important?

Yes, very. Part of your role will be to manage patient data. For example, you may be expected to collect, upkeep, and organize patient info and medical data.

You may also have to input info onto a computer about a patient’s prescription(s) and medical condition(s). Such information is highly sensitive and confidential.

Your pharmacy is required to comply with laws surrounding GDPR. As such, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with these regulations.

You’ll also have to show an awareness of confidentiality when discussing a customer’s prescription within the pharmacy — especially if other customers are present.

What about Training, Development, and Qualifications?

At the least, most pharmacies prefer hiring someone who’s completed their senior school education. But, there are no formal entry requirements. Instead, most pharmacies what you to prove the skills we’ve already outlined. For instance, empathy, clear communication, excellent organizational skills, etc.

When you start as an over the counter assistant, a member of the pharmacy team usually trains you in the basics. For example, using the computer system to complete data entry tasks.

You’ll be given guidance and information on patient confidentiality and GDPR (see above). You’ll also be advised about how to talk to customers and the importance of excellent customer service skills.

The Accredited Medicines Counter Assistants Course

Following on from the basics, anyone working in a setting where medicines are dispensed must take an accredited medicines counter assistants course. They need to acquire this within three months of starting their role in the pharmacy.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) states that a pharmacy over the counter assistant must have “completed training in a maximum of three years.”

You can get this qualification while you’re already working as an over the counter assistant. You don’t have to be present in a physical school, instead, it can be completed through distance learning. Typically, this takes around three to six months to complete.

If you’re interested in undergoing such training, all you need is a willingness to undertake it. And, of course, the ability to put what you learn into practice in your role at the pharmacy.

Different course providers have different requirements as far as qualifications are concerned. So, it’s worth checking before signing up.

But, there are a few exemptions to the above. For example, if you’re already a pre-registration trainee pharmacist, a student on an MPharm degree course, or a student studying an Overseas Pharmacists’ Assessment Programme (OSPAP), then you won’t have to complete the above training.

As far as career development goes, once you’ve gained enough experience and the training mentioned above, you might be able to train as a Pharmacy Technician. This is a natural progression for anyone working as an over the counter assistant.

Ready to Become an Over the Counter Assistant?

Now you’ve read a little about what an over the counter assistant does and all their responsibilities, do you fancy giving it a go? If so, contact us to find out how we can help you make the next step in your career.

At Medpharm, you can expect to receive the best rates of pay in locum and permanent positions within the Irish pharmacy. Just search for the sector in your desired location and see what’s available!

Register with us now and start opening the doors to your dream job today!