Veterinary pharmacist Andrew Cairns tells Saša Jankovic what prompted him to work in the field
Andrew Cairns is a pharmacist and the managing director of Murray Farmcare, a veterinary medicines supplier established in 1975 that serves farmers across the UK from its 12,000 square-foot base in Dumfries. He also lectures on veterinary pharmacy at Harper Adams University in Shropshire
I qualified as a pharmacist at the University of Glasgow and started my career in industry. At the time I was newly married with a young family and I soon realised that the money was better in community pharmacy. I saw an ad in a Cumbrian newspaper for a position as a manager at Harold Jobson’s pharmacy in Longtown, and when I met him I discovered he was also running a veterinary pharmacy service.
I worked there for three years and learned a lot about veterinary pharmacy, and then I left and bought Murray Chemist in Dumfries, which was my original home and where my wife was from. Because I knew a bit about vet pharmacy, I put an ad in the local paper saying that we could supply vet products.
What started as a sideline eventually took off. From having four community pharmacies (two of which were high volume), I now work exclusively in the supply of animal medicines. Last year, I purchased the Jobson’s business where I started, which has four outlets in Cumbria and Northumberland.
Despite the proliferation of suitably qualified persons in the veterinary merchants market (such as in pet and agricultural superstores), there are still plenty of opportunities for veterinary pharmacy. The main one is that we can break bulk, which the merchants cannot. This means we are able to supply farmers with the precise quantities that they need, which saves them waste and money.
Pharmacists are able to dispense veterinary prescriptions and sell veterinary products by virtue of their registration with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), but they have to understand the Veterinary Medicines Regulations from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).
There also is differentiation between pet medicines and large animal medicines, because the business models are not the same. Any community pharmacy can get into the pet medicines market because it’s a generalist activity: you hold stock on your shelves, sell it, and it’s money through the till. Large animal medicines are a completely different commercial challenge. Most farmers want an account, and you have to be able to fund that for 30-60 days. Plus you’ll need ancillary products, so space can be an issue.’
Although no specific qualification is required to work in veterinary pharmacy, you need to be competent in the specialty. I highly recommend the textbook Veterinary Pharmacy by Dr Steven Kayne and Dr Michael Jepson. Also, veterinary pharmacy courses such as those offered by Harper Adams University give the grounding to operate confidently in this area.
There are lots of sources of information and there is great value in learning on the job – getting to know how farm systems work, and how the commercial aspect of farming is affected by the proper healthcare of stock. There is plenty of regulatory material from the VMD and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Medicines Ethics & Practice, and manufacturers are helpful and are involved heavily in CPD, which you are required to complete and submit to GPhC as in community pharmacy.
Because running a veterinary pharmacy is entrepreneurial, there’s not much to compare it with, but I’d say the salaries reflect the market rate for a pharmacist. My daughter is a pharmacist and she came to work with us at Murray Farmcare, and we paid her what she was getting in community pharmacy.
Alongside all the standards and professional ethics and patient focus, the thing about vet pharmacy is that it’s entrepreneurial, so as a pharmacist you need that kind of spirit. The successful vet pharmacist is independent and has the ability to understand business.
Yes, I think it’s a great profession. You get what you work for and the market is as big as you make it. There is room for ingenuity and you can be very efficient in a micro sense. I got into it by accident and I still find the job stimulating and challenging.
Saša Jankovic is a freelance journalist