First Year Pharmacy Course Modules

First year is finally over and so, here I am, giving those of you who are thinking about applying to a pharmacy course, or have already applied, a little insight into life as a first year pharmacy student.


This is a non-examinable module that must be passed in order to progress to the second year and consists of calculations and a placement.

  • Calculations

A few workshops which include homework, and then a test at the beginning of December. The two books recommended are ‘Practical Pharmaceutical Calculations’ by Bonner & Wright; and ‘Introduction to Pharmaceutical Calculations’ by Rees, Smith, & Watson. Before you think, that’s quite a lot to get through if we only get ~4 workshops, well, you only go through the first few chapters in your first year. It’s not too bad but make sure you revise and fully understand how to work through problems.

  • Placements

We were the first year to undergo placements at Cardiff and Vale Hospitals and I’m afraid to say we were misled on what we would be doing. We were under the impression that we were shadowing a pharmacist for 2 hours every 3 weeks for 9 sessions. As quite a few of us had experience within community pharmacy, this would have been an incredible opportunity to become familiar with hospital prescriptions, common drugs, etc. 

However, this was not the case.

The staff were unsure of what we were supposed to be doing and so in pairs, we would sit in an elderly care ward for two hours talking to the patients. The patients were reluctant to speak with us leading to long awkward pauses in dragging conversations. This was of no fault of their own – our placements had been scheduled to that we would see patients immediately after their lunch and would cut across visiting hours. Most patients just wanted to rest, sleep, or have some peace and quiet.

At the end of each placement we had to you complete a reflection page on a site called ‘Mahara’. The reflection was based on what you had learned that session – talking to patients does not constitute as ‘learning’ which meant that we had to be ‘imaginative’ in our reflections. Each short reflection must also linked to the skills used, e.g. ‘Talking to a patient who had experienced a fall which had shaken their confidence’ This page could be linked to actively listens, provides clear and accurate information to patients, and exhibits suitable levels of confidence when communicating.

An example of a reflection:

Click to access example_records_for_revalidation_for_pharmacy_professionals.pdf

Tip – complete a Mahara entry straight after each placement otherwise a) the sessions will blur into one and you’ll have forgotten what you did and b) you’ll spend three days doing Mahara right before the deadline. Don’t put yourself through it. Just don’t.


This is quite a ‘waffly’ module which gives on overview of the drug development process. The January exam contributes to 80% of module grade, and the other 20% comes from a presentation on a plant which has medicinal properties. Our assigned plant was ‘Rawolfina serpentina’.  The presentation is delivered in front of the whole year and considering this fact, it was marked quite harshly. 

* Don’t forget about the practical that you did in this module – it is examinable material! describes paracetamol overdose which is covered in the module. The paracetamol overwose workshop was fun since the lecturers had set up a hospital bed with one of the taking robot dummies which would suddenly start groaning and seizing.


This module was probably my favourite as made me feel like as had finally enrolled on a pharmacy course. The main part of this module of the RTS workshops (Responding to Symptoms). In the first year there is an RTS session roughly every two weeks which focuses on OTC conditions and treatments. To get the most out of the workshop you will need to do some pre-reading, which is just to read (+ learn if you haven’t had any experience in community) a chapter from Rutter (2017) Community Pharmacy: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment. This is a great book and is available as an ebook from Cardiff University Library.

At the end of each workshop you will work in pairs or threes to complete OSCE style questions – one patient, one pharmacist and one marker.

Something that I liked about the workshops is that if you speak Welsh, they will place you on a table with other Welsh speaking students. Arriving in Cardiff I thought that I would be speaking Welsh everyday like I did at home, but I found that very little Welsh was spoken. When you go shopping, the person at the till usually doesn’t speak welsh, and very few of your lecturers do (which was a big change from secondary school where all my teachers spoke Welsh). Therefore, these workshops were a lovely way to feel at home.

Close to the end of the year you will have a workshop led by OSCE actors. Seeing a ‘Communication’ workshop in my timetable filled me with dread and thought that it would be a waste of time. That workshop was one of the most important workshops that I have been to. It is held after the mock OSCE and they will pick up things that students did during the mock.  For example, they showed how we knocked on the door, walked in, head down, sat down, then introduced ourselves (guilty). It looked hilarious when they acted out what we did and they gave us lots of tips of how to speak to patients. The actual OSCE was nice and a bit more realistic as compared to the workshops. In the workshops you get a set of symptoms, you diagnose and treat. Community pharmacy doesn’t work like that – you get patients asking for a certain medication, or they want to know which one is the best, therefore you need to know the effectiveness of medications.

Top tip: MAKE NOTECARDS. I rarely used notecards in A level, but in this particular module it’s a great way to test your self on the treatments and referral criteria for OTC conditions.

  • Clinical Knowledge Summaries (NICE)
  • ‘Community Pharmacy: symptoms, diagnosis and treatment’ is the go-to book for this unit. Everything you need to know is in it.
  • Non-prescription Medicines by Nathan, A. 2010. I didn’t know about this book until recently, and by that I mean after the exam…I love know how medications work not just ‘this is the condition and this is the drug used to treat it’ and the book explains how the drug acts within the body to target that condition.

The ‘POP’ classes are useful which gives you an introduction to dispensing such as how to check the legality of a prescription, and how to label. However, for those of you who are planning on doing a community pharmacy placement in the summer, in reality, dispensing is quite different.

The exam was quite straightforward, especially since I had experience within community pharmacy. I always go into an exam expecting the worse and so had expected scenarios where patients had a long list of medications that they’re on with multiple interactions, but in fact, only a few were on other medications and they were also quite obvious ones.


This is the module that will probably make you re-think why you’re on a pharmacy course. The practicals involve making and spreading agar plates, looking at the type of bacteria growing etc. and it just doesn’t feel like what you signed up for.

The first assessment you will have in the MPharm course is in this module. The assessment is released in three parts and so I suggest you do them as soon as you get them, other wise you’ll find yourself trying to do it the week before and finding out that its actually not that easy. It is a series of questions, and each has a word limit. I found this difficult as 25 words is not enough to answer a question. 

  • Oxford Handbook of Infections Diseases and Microbiology, Chapter 2, Antibiotics.

For the first year you don’t need to know the names of most drugs (which is great as in one of the first microbiology lectures there’s a few slides with just names of antibiotics and you’re a bit like ‘do I need to know this?’). However, you do need to know the names of antivirals and antifungals.

Towards the end of the module you are taught Glycolysis + Krebs Cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation in more detail which is quite interesting. This leads to my next point – there is a lot of detail in the module which needs to be learned for the multiple choice exam and it can make you feel annoyed as maybe one MCQ will come up on e.g. the whole of glycolysis and Krebs which took you a whole day to learn.


This was another of my favourites as it gives a more in-depth look that the human body.

The module is graded through an exam and essay. I always expect the worse and so I thought that they’d give us something really sciency as an essay topic but its quite nice and vague e.g. healthy eating, smoking, etc. They also give you PLENTY of time to write the essay with about a month and a half over Christmas for the first draft, and a month for the second draft.

Useful books and website which apply to all units:

Unit 1 is self taught and covers basic principles such as the position of the body.

Unit 2 – Nervous, Integument, and Skeletal System. Some of the NS parts have been covered in A Level such as the action potential. This is one of the heaviest units, as you come across so many terms that you’ve never heard of before. This means that it will take you ages to learn and so I’ve gathered a few things that might help.

  • Cranial Nerves – you need to remember their names and a little about them. I struggled to remember the order so I made a sort of story/sequence in my head.

I’d point to my nose (olfactory), then eyes (optic) then bridge of my nose (oculomotor), ear (trochlear). Now here’s the story. I imagine I’m walking down the street in a beautiful low cut dress which shows of a beautiful necklace which has three gemstones in it (trigeminal). Someone notices the expensive gems and they attempt to abduct me (abducens). I struggle and I get punched in the face (facial) which causes my hearing to go all skew iff (vestibulocochlear). I retaliate hitting them in the chin, causing them to bite their own tongue (glossopharyngeal) and they start choking (vagus). They fall to the ground, landing on their back (spinal accessory) and I walk away, not before I stick my tongue out at them (hypoglossal) like the mature adult I am.

For whether or not they are sensory/motor/both, our lecturer used the following sentence – some say marry money, but my brother says big brains matter most.

Unit 3 – Cardiovascular and Respiratory introduces some complex pathways such as intracellular signaling which comes up in a few different modules and units and so I’d recommend spending some time to learn the basics (

It covers topics such as blood pressure, control of cardiac contraction (which I found very complicated and did not learn. Inotropy, chronotrophy, and lusitropy mechanisms involve secondary messengers), cardiac action potentials, haemostasis, gas exchange.

For both unit 2 & 3 I’d recommend trying to read the chapter the night before just so you can begin to get your head around it.

Unit 4: GI system was quite a new unit for all of us as only digestion is covered in A level. It doesn’t go into that much detail so it’s a relatively short unit.

Unit 5: Immune System. This was another difficult one and the lecturer may be unaware of how little immunology we had done previously. Some parts are quite nice such as the cells involved in immune responses but again has quite a few new terminology that you need to grasp. I remember sitting in the lecture about the classical complement pathway and none of us had any idea what was going on. The lecture kept saying different variation of numbers and letters such as C4b2a and how that is the C3 convertase which forms the C5 convertase C4b2b3b. You could feel the confusion in the room and everyone was looking at each other wondering if they were the only one that didn’t understand. They weren’t. However, if you make a poster flow chart the complement system becomes much easier to understand and learn.

Unit 6: Endocrine – a very interesting unit which covers things like the hypothalamic-pituitary axis and insulin/glucagon.

Unit 7: Kidney and Urinary system– short unit which mostly recaps A level stuff.

Unit 8: Reproductive Hormones – again covers A level work.

This exam was quite nice and was composed of MCQs and eight 5 mark questions. I had expected the long answer questions to be very scientific such as ‘describe muscle contraction’ where I had to give all this terminology, but it was quite nice.


For this module I would recommend you to bring your A Level notes with you to University as it covers many of the same concepts including organic reactions, acidity, kinetics, and isomerism. Towards the end of the year they organize workshops which give you a chance to work though exam style questions. I found them very useful but in the end the exam was still very difficult.


  • They print off handouts – buying a printer was useless as I could just go to the library to get my notes printed.
  • Exams are different to A Level – most are multiple choice and the questions are not designed to trick you. They will be straightforward such as ‘Describe…’
  • I typed up my notes and expended on some concepts that I didn’t understand. I highly recommend making your own notes, even if it is very time consuming as at the end of the year you will have a 40 page (back to back) display folder of PH1124 notes to study instead of ~2 lever arch files worth of handouts.
  • I have uploaded my flashcards for PH1124 under the name MTFarm on Quizlet (MPharm1).
  • No past papers (with the exception of PH1125) which means that you may be going into your exam blind.

Hope it helps.

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