This article describes the role of the pharmacist and explains how advice from the pharmacist can help your family.

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a highly trained health professional who operates your local chemist store. Pharmacists are skilled in dispensing pharmaceutical drugs and other medications that are prescribed by doctors.

In order to qualify as a pharmacist, a person has to graduate from a four-year Bachelor of Pharmacy degree from Auckland or Otago University and then undertake a year-long internship at a pharmacy or hospital. They must also be currently registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand.

Pharmacists are increasingly being promoted as a ‘primary health care professional’ – meaning that they can be a first stop for you when you need medical information or knowledge to assist yourself or your family. You can approach your local pharmacist with your health questions and, if they are unable to help you, they will direct you to who can.

Pharmacists have an in-depth understanding about drugs and drug reactions and how different medications may interact with each other. They work closely with doctors to ensure you’re receiving the right medication at the right dose.

A growing number of pharmacists (also called chemists) have an interest in natural medicine and stock an extensive array of vitamins, minerals, homeopathic and aromatherapy supplies.

As well as working in their own chemist store, pharmacists can be found working in hospitals, in veterinary practices, in academia and in government where they work in regulatory affairs.

When should I see a pharmacist?

  • When you or your child have sustained a minor injury or wound for which you don’t think you need to see a doctor
  • If you need any advice about the safety of medicines during pregnancy or breast feeding
  • If you are worried about your child’s health and need some immediate questions answered
  • When you need to get a prescription filled
  • When you don’t understand something about the medicine you’ve been prescribed
  • If you are experiencing side effects from a medicine
  • For all kinds of normal illnesses for which you need to buy over-the-counter medicine
  • When you need advice about which health professional to see or how to find one
  • For any general health worries you have – a great first place to seek advice is from a chemist

How do I find a pharmacist?

  • Just ask at the counter of your local chemist shop to speak to the pharmacist – there will always be a qualified pharmacist on duty
  • Visit the Pharmacy Council of New Zealand’s website where you can find where your nearest pharmacist is located – see link below
  • Family Friendly Pharmacy Programme – in this program the Parents Centre and The Pharmacy Guild of NZ have joined forces to create a special focus on the health needs of families. In these pharmacies (visit the website below to find the one closest to you) extra services include toys for children; places for mothers to breastfeed; family loyal cards; a home delivery service; regular newsletter with family-orientated topics and lots of free information on all health concerns you might have
  • Supporting Independent Living Programme – another programme offered by participating pharmacies which helps people who are ill, elderly or disabled. Assistance is given with home delivery of medications; repeat reminders; health aids; checking for drug interactions; management of drug side effects; continence care and the ability to consult with you privately in a room at the pharmacy, or in your own home

What the pharmacist can do?

Pharmacists can offer a sound listening board for your health concerns and will give professional advice about what medications or medical services might best help you.

Pharmacists will be able to explain to you how drugs work, how and when you should take medicine, food or vitamin substances to avoid with certain drugs – and any side effects of the medication that you might need to be aware of.

A pharmacist with a strong interest in natural medicine may also be able to help you with homeopathic, vitamin and other natural remedies.

An exciting new development in New Zealand and worldwide over the last decade or so has been the arrival of the compounding pharmacists. This new breed of pharmacists work to compound (make up) individual medications such as natural hormones for individual patients.

The new compounding pharmacist is rather like the original chemist of old: they make up remedies individually for each new patient, rather than dispense pre-packaged pharmaceutical drugs.

In general, a pharmacist can:

  • Dispense medication a doctor has prescribed for you
  • Help with advice on wound care and minor medical aliments
  • Discuss concerns you may have about medicines and how they are affecting you
  • Give you advice on how to take medications
  • Show you how to use medical devices like inhalers, syringes and blood glucose meters
  • Sell you non-prescription medicine
  • Give advice on a healthy lifestyle
  • Help you monitor medical treatments like diabetes and asthma
  • Refer you to other health professionals where necessary
  • Safely dispose of unwanted medicines that you might have

What can I do to improve my family’s health?

  • Learn about basic first aid yourself – become a competent person in your family who knows how to deal with emergency health situations
  • Never be afraid to question doctors or other health professionals about medications you’ve been prescribed or treatments recommended. The more you question, the more you learn and the safer will be your health and that of your family
  • If you are pregnant, or there is a possibilty that you may be, be sure to infrom your pharmacist
  • If you or your child have been prescribed medication, make sure you know what the potential risks and side effects are, and any foods or supplements you should avoid during this time
  • Do not exceed the recommended dose on medicines – especially for children, as this can potentially cause major harm or even death
  • When you are prescribed antibiotics, remember to finish the whole bottle of liquid or pills over the recommended time period to ensure the maximum chance of killing off the infection.

Useful websites and articles:


The Pharmacy Council of New Zealand is responsible for registering pharmacists and they will provide information to the public if they are concerned about treatment or advice received from a pharmacist.


The Pharmacy Guild is also an important part of New Zealand life and has been operating since the 1930s. It works to help inform and update pharmacists about their complex and rapidly changing industry.

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Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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