Getting a Pharmaceutical Job in Australia

getting a pharmaceutical job in australia

At a cursory glance, it can be easy to think that Australia’s Pharmaceutical industry isn’t what it once was. Previously, the standard career path consisted of graduates finishing university and working for a local Community Pharmacy for a number of years, before setting up or purchasing their own Community Pharmacy and working as the owner/operator of that business.

With the rise to prominence of large, multi-state, discount retail pharmacies, all of this changed. Purchasing or starting up a community pharmacy became more difficult, and salaries have been driven downwards by these commercial powerhouses. So, what are the options now for qualified Pharmacists?


The career prospects for qualified Pharmacists are actually very bright if you know where and what to look at. Luckily, here at On Q Recruitment, knowing where to look is our forte, and we felt that it would be helpful to shine a light on some of the other paths you can take if you have a Pharmacy qualification, and you don’t want to join a mega-Pharma retailer.

In this blog you can also read about two Pharmacists and the career choices they made – Sam was a graduate when he stepped into a Clinical Research Assistant role after completing his internship, while Jenny moved into Regulatory Affairs after a seven-year career in Community Pharmacy. Both of their success stories show that there are great opportunities outside of the typical career paths that many might see as the only option.

Clinical Research

One career path available is to move into Clinical Research; usually in a Clinical Research Associate role. While it’s not uncommon for aspiring Pharmacists who can’t find work to pursue a Clinical posting as a Pharmacist at a hospital, the CRA role – whilst still in the Clinical realm – has a different emphasis. CRAs work within the medical research field, specifically conducting, overseeing or monitoring clinical research trials – testing drugs for their effectiveness, monitoring side effects and ensuring they are safe for the consumer.

In this role you’ll be involved at every step of the process; setting up the tests, identifying any issues or challenges, initiating the trial, monitoring the results and ultimately closing it down. CRAs can be found in a variety of different settings, from pharmaceutical companies to hospitals, medical research institutes, contract research organisations and government agencies.

What made you realise that you may have to change your initial career plan?

Like all pharmacy students, I initially believed that I would go to open my own pharmacy shop. Towards the end of my university degree, I began to notice that opening up a pharmacy may not be the best career pathway in the current market. This was due to many factors including the abundance of discount pharmacies that drive prices and therefore profits down for other pharmacies.

Written and communication skills are key in this role, as you’ll be outlining trial procedures, planning, and methodologies, as well as gathering documentation and reports on the results of these trials. You’ll also be liaising with doctors, setting up trial sites, and managing the regulatory side of the role, where you’ll be dealing with applications and approvals with relevant authorities.

Working as a CRA can help you to build up experience and knowledge of the various phases of clinical research, which can then help you later down the line if you’re looking to move into a more traditional Clinical Pharmacist role, or if you want to go further in a Pharmaceutical company. However, there is also plenty of room for progress in the CRA role itself. CRAs often progress to greater levels of responsibility, with experienced and senior CRAs often having the opportunity to freelance or contract, which can open up a new range of lucrative career options.

What path did you take to get to your current role?

After my internship, I secured a Clinical Project Assistant role. After 3 months I was then promoted to my current role as a Clinical Research Associate. The professionalism and teamwork involved with doctors and study coordinators in the CRA role is at a different level from Hospital Pharmacy.

Regulatory Affairs/Quality Assurance

While moving into Clinical might seem like the obvious choice if you can’t find opportunities in Community Pharmacy, there are also other fields available. Regulation and compliance-focused roles, like Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, are a great way to carve a career out for yourself, and can also lead to high-level leadership opportunities later in your career.

In a Quality Assurance role, your key focus is exactly that: that the products that cross your desk are of an acceptable quality to go to market.

QA Pharmacists generally work within Pharmaceutical or Manufacturing companies, ensuring that the products produced comply with regulations covering substances, ingredients and classification. While the job title often carries a certain perception, Quality Assurance isn’t an administration role, and much of it revolves around being in the laboratory, testing products, as well as interacting with the relevant regulators. 

As these roles progress, you may find yourself moving from day-to-day analysis into a more strategic position, where you might have influence over the way the quality process functions as a whole.

What did you study? Where did you think it would take you?

I studied a Bachelor of Pharmacy and I worked in community pharmacy for about seven years after graduating university. I envisioned eventually owning my own community pharmacy and working to help the community and being the owner of my own business. However, the pharmacy landscape has also changed during my time and he idea of owning my own pharmacy became more challenging. I wanted to remain involved in pharmacy and decided a new career in Regulatory Affairs would be challenging and exciting.

Regulatory Affairs, on the other hand, is primarily a desk based role acting as the liaison between the company, the product, and the regulators. This role requires a blend of scientific, technical, business and legal knowledge to be successful, as RA officers play a critical role in ensuring legislation is adhered to throughout the lifecycle of a product. Not only do they communicate legislation to the production team, but they also work with regulatory authorities, making presentations and negotiating for authorisations on various matters.

However, this position still requires technical knowledge and research experience, and having an established background in other Pharmacy specific roles can be an advantage. At OnQ Recruitment, we have seen Senior RA Officers progress into positions as senior as board-level and consultancy, making it a lucrative career path for those with leadership ambitions.

What career path did you take to get to your current role?

I worked at the Pharmacy Guild as a Member Relations Officer which allowed me to meet pharmacy owners and see all facets of the pharmacy industry such as working with the government to advocate for community pharmacies. My experience in community pharmacy also helped me remain close to the products, which is very relevant for my new role.

The biggest surprise is that Regulatory Affairs works alongside so many different departments, and that there is a lot of background work that goes into putting new medications on the market and having them stay on the market. It has challenged me as I did not know about any of these processes before and there are constant updates and guidelines for Australia that are changing. You are constantly learning in this role.

In Summary

While the landscape has certainly changed, there are still many opportunities out there for Pharmacists despite the decrease in jobs in the Community Pharmacy environment. If you’re looking for more information on the opportunities available to you as a qualified Pharmacist, feel free to get in touch today.

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