Over the past several months the Ontario College of Pharmacists has been supporting pharmacy professionals as they deal with the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Helping pharmacies remain open as a safe and essential healthcare service has been a top priority, and we continue to support the profession as it evolves and adapts to the realities of the pandemic.
The College also recognizes the valuable contribution of new pharmacy graduates and the importance of ensuring they have a clear pathway to be able to meet all necessary requirements for registering as pharmacy professionals. This is an important part of our public-interest mandate, established in legislation, which includes ensuring that the province has access to an adequate number of quality, skilled and competent pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to care for Ontario’s citizens and developing, establishing and maintaining standards of qualification for persons to be issued certificates of registration.
Provincial legislation and standards require pharmacy graduates to successfully complete the Qualifying Exam administered by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) as part of their eligibility to register with the College. Prior to writing the exam, graduates can be registered as pharmacy interns and can engage in full scope of practice under the supervision of a practicing pharmacist who, in community pharmacies, is physically present.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges across our entire health system and has interrupted the lives of many students, including those set to become fully licensed pharmacy professionals. Earlier this year, the PEBC postponed the in-person performance-based exam (Objective Structured Clinical Examination, or OSCE) for pharmacist students, scheduled for May, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Similar cancellations have occurred with other health profession qualifying exams over the past several months.
Since then, the PEBC and its partners have actively explored alternative ways to deliver the exam in consideration of public health measures in place in local jurisdictions which are designed to control or prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. However, the pandemic and the associated restrictions due to important public health protocols has continued to result in disruptions to students being able to complete these qualifying exams.
Despite significant efforts by the PEBC, supported by other pharmacy stakeholders including the College, schools and associations to find solutions to enable the hosting of exams in Ontario during the pandemic, we have learned that the PEBC has had no other option than to cancel the November 8th Toronto exam and scale back the capacity for the Ottawa exam due to local and provincial public health restrictions currently in place in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
The College, along with the PEBC, Ontario Pharmacists Association and the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo, also co-signed an open letter to pharmacy interns, 2020 pharmacy graduates and the entire profession of pharmacy.
The College is confident that PEBC has done everything possible to be able to continue to host the exams as scheduled while respecting important health and safety measures but we, as others, are nevertheless disappointed with this outcome. As the regulator for the pharmacy profession in Ontario, we recognize and share the frustration of exam candidates who are affected by the cancellation and the ongoing challenges posed by this public health crisis.
This is an unprecedented time for our society, our health system and the professionals who care for patients every day. While we understand that things are not business as usual during the pandemic, we remain hopeful that future exams will be able to proceed as planned and will continue to do what we can, within our mandate, and together with other pharmacy and academic stakeholders, to bring awareness to the need for these exams to proceed while protecting the health of all involved. We look forward to candidates being able to complete this important step in their journey to registration and to contributing to the wellbeing of Ontario’s communities during such challenging times.