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Student-led campaign calls for reclassification of pharmacist licensing exam or approval of emergency conditional licenses  

Jesse Ropat
Fourth Year PharmD student Jesse Ropat

Jesse Ropat launched #LicenseToPill, a petition and social media campaign, calling the Ontario Government to take action on licensing pharmacy gradates. 

“This is no small matter. My career — as well as the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of recent graduates students — is on the line,” said Ropat, a fourth-year PharmD student who created the campaign. 

As regulated health-care professionals, one of the requirements for pharmacist licensure is certification of an applicant’s knowledge, skills and abilities at entry to practice. This certification is granted by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) to those who successfully complete the Qualifying Examination – Part I (multiple-choice question – MCQ) and Part II (Objective Structured Clinical Examination - OSCE). 

The MCQ was administered online. As a clinical competency assessment, the OSCE is a practical exam requiring multiple people to assess each candidate, including an assessor and a standardized patient. The exam is held twice annually (May and November), but the last two sittings were cancelled due to COVID-19 public health restrictions. 

With more than 100 pharmacy graduates waiting to take the exam across Ontario, the PEBC planned a special OSCE exam in late February in Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo and London. Organizers opted not to host any February exams in Toronto where COVID-19 case counts are higher and therefore exams would be more difficult to facilitate. Depending on case counts, some public health units across the province have relaxed some restrictions; however, London, Hamilton and Waterloo fall under the Red – Control Zone, limiting indoor gathering capacity to 10 people. 

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To call attention to this issue, Ropat engaged all PharmD student cohorts at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, as well as alumni, preceptors, Waterloo School of Pharmacy, Ontario Pharmacist Association and community pharmacist networks across Ontario. Together, they’re advocating for the Ontario Government to take one of two actions: 

  1. Change the designation of the exam so it’s equivalent to in-person examinations conducted by post-secondary institutions for the purpose of applicable regulations (allowing for an indoor gathering capacity of up to 50 people). 

  2. Approve the emergency registration certificate class of pharmacy professionals submitted by the Ontario College of Pharmacists in mid-January. 

“What’s most frustrating is that there’s a simple solution. Both of these are viable options. Emergency conditional licences have been granted in the past,” said Ropat. 

Within the first few hours, more than 500 people have signed Ropat’s petition and the #LicenseToPill hashtag is gaining momentum on Twitter. It also has the attention and support of Faculty leadership. 

“The uncertainty surrounding the postponement of the PEBC OSCE has been so difficult for our recent graduates and students,” said Lisa Dolovich, Professor and Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, who has worked with U of T and PEBC leadership as well as other partners on various options for pathways to licensure.  

“I’m hopeful that the Ontario government will approve the emergency registration certificates soon so that recent graduates can take advantage of this designation and be recognized as pharmacists,” said Dolovich. “I’m proud of and grateful for the significant advocacy and engagement efforts led by members of our community, including students like Jesse as well as many other alumni leaders. The Faculty supports you and is rooting for your success.” 

According to Ropat, the decision can’t come soon enough.

“If the February exam can’t move forward, I’ll be part of the double cohort of graduates waiting to take the exam,” said Ropat. 

“We know pharmacists will play an integral part of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in communities so it’s shocking and absurd that the government isn’t removing these barriers for pharmacists to fully practice.” 

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