The rapid growth of the pharmaceutical industry around the world has created many job opportunities and attracted a large number of young adults to choose a career in this field. Karla was one of these burgeoning professionals. In her home country of the Philippines, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Pharmacy, passed the Pharmacist Licensure Examination conducted by the Board of Pharmacy and became a Registered Pharmacist.
For six years, Karla worked as a hospital pharmacist, a role that involved dispensing prescriptions to patients. Her husband, a nurse, was employed at the same hospital.
Despite the fact that Karla and her husband had good jobs, they struggled financially, living paycheck to paycheck with little opportunity to save. They made the decision to apply for Canadian permanent residency in search of more opportunities and a better life. After completing the process, the couple arrived in Mississauga, Ontario, in 2012 with their two-and-a-half-year-old son.
“When I was in the Philippines, I researched how to apply and what exactly I needed to do to become a registered pharmacist in Canada,” says Karla. The first step in the licensure process was a document assessment, so she submitted the required paperwork to be evaluated by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) before leaving her country.
During her first six months in Canada, Karla didn’t work; her focus was taking care of her son. It was during this same period of time that Karla received PEBC’s approval, marking her readiness for step two in her licensing journey: The Evaluating Examination. Karla began studying while juggling motherhood.
In January 2013, Karla passed the Evaluating Examination and started volunteering as a pharmacist assistant. After three months of experience in the role – and due to her hard work – Karla was hired as a part-time pharmacist assistant. Soon after, she took on a second job for a similar position at another pharmacy.
Step three on the licensure process was writing the Qualifying Examination Part I, a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) format assessment. “At my first attempt, I failed. So, I was required to enrol in the International Pharmacy Graduate (IPG) program at the University of Toronto (U of T),” recounts Karla.
Some time passed and Karla, before pursuing the program at U of T, attempted the Qualifying Examination Part I once again. This time, she passed it. However, because she had failed the exam the first time, it was still mandatory to enroll in the IPG program.
Since money was tight, Karla planned on taking a loan from a bank in order to afford her program. However, while researching financial support options on U of T’s website, she found a link to Windmill Microlending. She started her loan process right away.
“It’s a good thing that I got approved by Windmill because my husband and I weren’t sure how we’d get the funds for licensing,” explains Karla. “I used the loan to partially pay for the U of T program and also to pay for my other exam fees.”
In 2015, one month after finishing the IPG program, Karla and her husband welcomed a new baby to their family, a daughter. A few months later, she attempted the Qualifying Examination Part II, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). “I failed my first attempt. To gain my confidence, I felt I needed to enroll in preparatory courses at PharmAchieve so that I could practice more. That helped me a lot. After I finished the program, I passed the exam,” says Karla.
The last step in Karla’s licensure process was completing a training program in a licensed pharmacy environment. In August 2016, after two years spent working as a part-time pharmacist assistant at two different pharmacies, Karla quit both jobs to concentrate for nine months on her full-time, unpaid studentship and internship.
After completing the training program, Karla received her license in May 2017. “Immediately after, I asked one of my previous employers if they needed a pharmacist, and fortunately, they did,” she says.
Almost three years later, Karla continues working at the same community pharmacy, a job that is commensurate with the one she held in the Philippines. “I feel very happy and grateful because I’m able to work as a pharmacist in Canada. Before it was just an impossible dream, but now, I’m living that dream,” says Karla.
For Karla, achieving professional success in Canada was possible, thanks to Windmill, but she gives her husband a lot of credit as well. “My husband helped me a lot. He said, ‘Study for the exam, take care of our child, and I’ll work.’ Then, during the [licensure] process, I wanted to work more to help him, and he said, ‘No, focus on your studies. It’s okay; I’ll work more so we can survive.’ And when I was pregnant and going to Toronto five days a week for six months to study, he said, ‘You can do it even though it’s hard. Don’t worry about the house. I’ll clean and take care of our son. Finish your studies.’”
To other immigrants, Karla gives this piece of advice: “Even if it seems impossible, and you face many struggles – financially, emotionally, physically – it is possible to get back into your profession with the help of your family and organizations like Windmill Microlending. It helped me a lot to achieve my dreams, and I feel really grateful.”