During the last ten years there has been a great increase in the number of women who have taken up pharmacy as their profession.
There are at the present time (1911) 130 women who are registered as fully qualified chemists and druggists, having passed the minor examination of the Pharmaceutical Society, and there is a still greater number of women who have taken a short course of training and the certificate of the Society of Apothecaries, which entitles them to act as dispensers.
Thirty years ago saw the advent of the first lady chemist, and for a long time women were very slow to take up the profession, probably because the openings were few and far between. Now this is all changed, and women are employed largely as head and assistant dispensers in hospitals and public institutions, and by medical men in private practice. They are, in fact, often preferred, because they are not wasteful in the use of materials, and, while being quite as accurate as men in dispensing prescriptions, are generally more reliable.
There is undoubtedly, then, a very good opening for the girl who possesses the right qualifications, but if she would be certain of employment she must avoid the mistake that so many women fall into of undergoing only partial training. If she does this her prospects will be very uncertain, and the pay smaller than if she has qualified as thoroughly as possible.
In order to succeed as a chemist a girl requires to be well educated and have abilities perhaps somewhat above the average, with some leaning towards scientific subjects and pursuits.
She should be possessed of good health and a good constitution, because the work is apt to be rather trying, especially in large public dispensaries, where the hours are often long, and the making up of medicines has to be done at great speed in order to cope with the crowd of people waiting for them.
For a girl who is not very strong it is best not to go in for this branch, but either to become dispenser to a medical man, or, better still, if she has business ability and some capital, to open a chemist's shop of her own in a neighbourhood which is not already over-provided with chemists. . About twenty women have gone into business for themselves, and no doubt the number would be greatly increased, only that many women cannot get away from the idea that it is derogatorv for them to stand behind the counter. This, however, need be no drawback, as the experience of lady chemists who have opened shops points to the fact that the public recognise this as a legitimate opening for the educated woman, and are prepared to treat her accordingly. The days are long past when she would be considered unfeminine for so doing, and she will find her sex in many cases a valuable asset, especially in her dealings with her poorer customers.
The first step to be taken by the intending chemist is to pass the preliminary examination of the Pharmaceutical Society in Latin, English, one modern language, arithmetic, Euclid, and algebra; but many of the ordinary certificates which girls take before leaving school are accepted in lieu of this examination, and a list of these can be obtained on application to the Secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society, 17, Bloomsbury Square, London, W.c.
It is best to pass the preliminary or some equivalent examination before becoming apprenticed, but this is not essential.
An apprenticeship for three years to a qualified chemist, either in a shop or a dispensary, or a pupilage for the same term is laid down by the regulations, and during this time the student, besides gaining a practical insight into the work of dispensing, stock-keeping, and the general management of a chemist's business, must pursue her studies in the various subjects for the qualifying examination-viz., pharmacy, botany, materia medica, elementary physics, and microscopy.
Before entering into the apprenticeship it is important to make a definite arrangement as to the number of hours a day which the student is to be allowed for private study. She should also stipulate that she should receive instruction in at least the elements of the subjects of her examination from the chemist to whom she is apprenticed; or, if this is not convenient, that she shall be allowed to attend a local technical school for the same purpose.
If the chemist to whom she is bound will undertake to give the whole of the instruction necessary to prepare for the qualifying examination, so much the better, as this means a saving both in time and money, but this very often cannot be arranged, and during her third year the student must attend the classes of a school of pharmacy for from six to nine months, both for study and laboratory practice.
There are several good schools in London and at different provincial centres, the best of all being the Pharmaceutical Society's own school.
Most women prefer to be apprenticed to a lady rather than to a man chemist, and a list of qualified women willing to take pupils can be obtained either from the secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society or from Miss Margaret Buchanan, secretary of the Association of Women Pharmacists, Gordon Hall, Gordon Square, W.c.
After finishing her training (and providing that she has reached the age of twenty-one) the student can present herself for the minor, or qualifying, examination of the Pharmaceutical Society, the passing of which entitles her to sell and dispense poisons, and to assume the title of chemist and druggist. The examination is a fairly stiff one, but quite within the capabilities of the average student who makes the most of her opportunities, and who has received a good general education.
After qualifying, most women do not pursue their studies further; but those who are ambitious to reach the higher posts in pharmacy take the major examination, which confers the title of Pharmaceutical Chemist. This is a decidedly difficult examination, and requires a wider and deeper knowledge of some of the subjects already taken for the minor.
At least six months' further study is required, and candidates are examined in advanced chemistry, materia medica, and botany.
This qualification is very important for those who aspire to become lecturers, consulting chemists to large wholesale firms, and to occupy other well-paid positions.
The cost of training varies, but need not exceed £100, including the examination fees.
Apprenticeship usually costs from £50 to £60, and this covers the cost of board and residence; and if a higher sum is demanded a greater amount of instruction should be given, and the cost of college fees be proportionately reduced. The latter are usually from £20 to £30 for a six or nine months' course, as the case may be.
The fee for the minor examination is ten guineas, and for the major, five guineas.
A large number of girls, as already mentioned, undergo a shorter and less expensive training, and content themselves with the certificate of the Society of Apothecaries, which enables them to take posts as dispensers to medical men, or in small institutions, or as assistant dispensers in hospitals and similar institutions.
To take this partial qualification, however, is much to be deprecated, provided that a girl has the means for training and the necessary ability to pass the more difficult examination, as salaries are generally low and employment uncertain. Indeed, it is a safe axiom that in all training the best is the cheapest in the end.
As, however, the openings for women workers are still but comparatively limited, even this branch of the profession deserves some attention from those who from one cause or another find it impracticable to qualify fully.
Students preparing for the examination of the Society of Apothecaries usually train under a qualified dispenser for twelve or eighteen months, for which the fee is about eight guineas; the fee for the examination itself being five guineas.
Full particulars as to the regulations can be obtained from the Secretary, Apothecaries' Hall, Water Lane, Blackfriars, E.c. Some women take this examination and its preliminary training as a step towards the minor, and this is a good plan, as it enables them to take a paid post under a qualified dispenser while they are studying, and thus lessen the cost of training.
One of the most lucrative branches of the profession is having a shop of one's own, if sufficient capital be forthcoming, and a woman possess the necessary business instinct to make a success of such an undertaking.
About two-thirds of the women engaged in pharmacy, however, are employed in the dispensaries of various institutions and by medical men, and the salaries obtainable range from £40 to £60 per annum, with board and lodging; and £80 to £120 non-resident. In some of the larger institutions, however, £100 to £120, with everything found, is paid.
In the case of those who only hold the certificate of the Society of Apothecaries the remuneration is seldom more than £30 per annum, resident; or £60, non-resident.
A few women have found posts in large firms of wholesale chemists, and this is an opening which should increase in the future. Some of them have to superintend the packing of the various drugs, and where these include poisons a qualified woman is required.
A few women are also employed in the laboratories of these firms, and these are very well paid positions, but at present it is very hard for a woman to obtain them.