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Postponed exams spark concerns over pharmacist shortage

February 23, 2021

Original Article:

Hundreds of pharmacy graduates are forced to delay their entry into the workforce after their licensing exam was suddenly postponed for a second time this year. Students are blaming administrators for failing to plan during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Students received the cancellation notice less than two days before the scheduled Objective Structured Clinical examination (OSCE) on Nov. 8, after Toronto Public Health updated COVID restrictions to limit gatherings amidst record-breaking COVID-19 cases.

The OSCE is the last step for graduating students to become a licensed pharmacist. The exam evaluates grads as they interact with a standardized patient at a number of clinical stations. This is the second time Eric Tran, a University of Toronto (U of T) student, has had his test delayed this year.

“Myself and many of my colleagues really are in limbo,” Tran said, who currently interns at a pharmacy in rural Ontario. “We’re stuck with the title as a pharmacy intern. We can practice similarly to the scope of a pharmacist but not entirely the scope of a pharmacist.”

The 2020 class president representing graduating pharmacists at the University of Toronto, Michelle Wang, says that a total of 200 students across Canada, including 120 at U of T were impacted by the cancellations.

“It makes us feel like we’re not an appreciated healthcare provider, especially during this time of need,” Wang said. “There’s a lot of pressure on pharmacies right now and they’ve been able to handle this burden because of this new body of pharmacy interns”

This is the second time that the OSCE has had to be rescheduled for the 2020 grads.

In May, students across Canada, including Wang, were forced to delay their certification after the test was postponed due to COVID-19.

During this time, Wang and her fellow students have only been allowed to work as interns at pharmacies, unable to practice in the full scope or earn a full wage while facing student debt in the tens of thousands.

In the months following the first cancellation, Wang says she urged testing administrators to develop a contingency plan, expecting a second wave of COVID-19 to lead to more restrictions.

“The ball was dropped here,” Wang said. “We all knew that this was coming but there was no plan. We kept asking for a plan. I don’t know why there was no movement in wanting to support this body of new graduates who are eager to work.”

The Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) is the national body responsible for providing tests and licensing pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. The organization says approximately 200 candidates were “displaced” in November’s OSCE, while the exam was administered to another 1,000 candidates across the country.

“While this is no consolation to those who were unable to test, it is a testament to the hard work and dedicated efforts by the exam centre teams who worked tirelessly with PEBC staff to overcome each obstacle amidst rapidly escalating COVID health and safety restrictions,” a spokesperson from the PEBC told CityNews. “In fact, PEBC tested more than 200 candidates than previous November exam administrations.”

Prior to Sunday’s cancellation, The Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) tells CityNews they along with stakeholders attempted to find ways for the exam to proceed safely but were not successful.

Last week, the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns penned a letter to the Board on behalf of their 3,000 members, saying administrators have failed to be transparent and develop a contingency plan during COVID-19.

“The decisions and actions that are made today have the potential to prevent a backlog in the system and allow the graduating class of 2021 to write their exams and become licensed on time,” the letter read. “This issue needs to be dealt with immediately.”

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