Pharmacy grads in limbo after certification exam postponed again

·3 min read

Members of Ontario's 2020 graduating class of pharmacists are facing another delay in their certification after finding out at the last minute that their final exam has again been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) is an in-person test that simulates the experience of working with patients, and is the last hurdle before becoming a pharmacist in Canada.

The exam was cancelled across the country in May, with a new date set for Nov. 8. But just days before, grads in Ontario found out it had been postponed again.

To be told 48 hours before that it was cancelled was quite devastating. - Arvind Grewal, University of Toronto pharmacy graduate

"We thought they had months to figure out how to administer this exam," said Ottawa resident Arvind Grewal. "To be told 48 hours before that it was cancelled was quite devastating."

The delay has not only left graduates unable to start their careers, it's also left some Ontario pharmacies short-handed in the middle of a pandemic.

"The reality is we need them to be practising," said Justin Bates, CEO of the the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA). Bates said the pandemic has put extra pressure on pharmacies, from COVID-19 testing to administering flu shots, so those grads are needed now.

Bates said the OPA is drafting a letter to the Ontario College of Pharmacists and Ontario's Ministry of Colleges and Universities to approve a conditional licence for students in this province so pharmacies can begin hiring them. That's already been done in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, Bates said.

Careers on hold

Grewal, a graduate of the University of Toronto pharmacy program, said if the exam had gone ahead in May as originally planned, he would have been ready to work by June.

"It's been tough," said Grewal, who had been communicating with pharmacies about job prospects, and has now had to notify them he's still not certified.

A statement from the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) said it tried to negotiate with health officials to administer the November test and it's now exploring the possibility of either a virtual exam, or an in-person exam in February.

"It is truly unfortunate that some candidates in Ontario received notice about the cancellation of their exam only two days before the exam and we sincerely regret the concern and frustration this has caused," said the statement.

The PEBC said some 1,000 people across the country did sit the exam Nov. 8, while some 200 could not because of the postponement.

Student representatives say they're disappointed the PEBC didn't prepare a contingency plan.

Michelle Wang, student president of the University of Toronto pharmacy program, said while she can work as an intern before the exam, it has to be under supervision with limited hours and income.

"It's very hard for us because most of us are carrying over $100,000 in debt right now and we've had to start repaying our loans," said Wang.