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Pharmacists moving to N.S. to work frustrated by red tape 'roadblocks' and licensing delays

Joshua Ghiringhelli is still be waiting to be fully licensed as a pharmacist in Nova Scotia almost a year after he moved to the picturesque rural community of Boutillier’s Point.

“It's been filled with a lot of roadblocks, pretty challenging,” he says, “It’s been a lot of bureaucracy from the federal level and the provincial level unfortunately.”

At the moment, he’s working as a pharmacy intern, which means he’s not allowed to do common pharmacy tasks like give injections.

Both he and his wife, Lindsey, spent 15 years as pharmacists in Michigan after the couple completed their PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) degrees in the same state.

Ever since coming to Canada, Ghiringhelli says the couple have found themselves covered in a sea of red tape, preventing them from practicing as fully licensed pharmacists in their new home.

He says first, the federal immigration process was slow and daunting, as he’s a U.S. citizen, she’s a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen.

Then, he says it took months to complete required testing and approvals from the federal regulatory body, the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC).

He’s now working on completing the 20 week internship required by the province and overseen by the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists.

“Right now, I just want to be helping my community, you know we're coming into the busiest season for pharmacy with flu shots coming out and COVID shots coming out in the next few weeks,” he says.

The Ghiringhellis are not the only foreign pharmacists frustrated by the system.

“To start with, you have to do jurisprudence exam, this exam is only offered once a month, on the last Wednesday of every month,” says Ben Be'eri, a pharmacist from Israel now doing his internship in Wolfville.

He says scheduling delays and technical problems mean it took him three months to take that exam.

Be’eri moved to Nova Scotia in February and says it's unlikely his internship will finish in the next three months because the internship is divided into separate rounds, and each round requires a waiting period in between for further approvals.

He says he still has five weeks to go.

“And then whatever bureaucratic time it will take for them to actually process the whole thing to say, 'yes, here you are, pay the fees and we'll give you the licence’," he added

The head of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists (NSCP) was in Australia and unavailable for an interview with CTV News Friday.

In a statement, CEO and registrar Beverley Zwicker writes, “We are using the authority provided to us under the Patient Access to Care Act (PACA), passed in April 2023, to remove those requirements for those licensed in countries where a license provided to a pharmacist can be considered equivalent to a Canadian license. This will allow these pharmacists to readily transfer into Nova Scotia just like a pharmacist from any other Canadian province or territory.”

Zwicker continues, “The NSCP is a proactive regulator and has been working on several initiatives to shore up the pharmacy workforce over the last few years, we welcomed the introduction of PACA in the spring to support this work. It has only been since then that we’ve been enabled as the provincial pharmacy regulator to explore different licensing streams.”

The statement also indicates the NSCP will have “a more substantive announcement to make” on that process in a few weeks.

Pharmacists throughout the Maritimes have recently been doing more heavy-lifting in the healthcare system, prescribing for more minor ailments.

In February, Nova Scotia launched a program offering pharmacy-led community care clinics throughout the province, of which there are now 26 locations.

All that means a higher demand for pharmacy professionals, and head of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia says that means any measures to help streamline recruitments and licensures are welcome.

CEO Allison Bodnar says she’s aware the NSCP has been working towards speeding up the process for foreign pharmacists moving to the province.

“There are opportunities for improvement in it,” she says, “how do we streamline the licensing processes, how can we make this quicker and more effective and at the same time protect the public and ensure that we have quality candidates coming into Nova Scotia.”

“That will differ depending on the training and education that these individuals have in their countries of origin,” she adds.

“Try and make this a bigger priority,” says Ghiringhelli. “Because there’s a lot of opportunity for us to play the role that has been given to us.”

He says he and his wife were attracted to Nova Scotia by the wide scope of practice given to pharmacists. After this long, he says he just wants to be able to do everything he’s trained to do.

 For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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