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‘Has COVID-19 shown it is time to rethink the pre-reg exam?’

Allowing re-registration pharmacists to provisionally join the register without an assessment raises questions about the exam, says Laura Buckley

Working through the era of social distancing and COVID-19 has had significant implications for our pre-registration pharmacists, and we as a sector ought to be supporting them.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) announced in May that pre-regs can provisionally register as pharmacists and must sit and pass a registration exam as soon as possible.

Given the increased risk of working during COVID-19, the enormity of the sudden step up in responsibility has been amplified. Our pre-regs have already earned my respect in applying to register in such unprecedented times.

But if the registration exam had gone ahead, a number of pre-regs would have failed to qualify. This suggests that a percentage of those provisionally registering may not be competent. Allowing the registrations is a risky move on the part of the GPhC – should we now be considering whether the qualifying exam is fit for purpose, since the unqualified are being trusted to join their peers on the frontline without formal examination?

I fear that this move has invited a series of questions about the necessity of the registration exam. But we mustn’t forget the need to evaluate candidates as suitably upholding the standards by which we are expected to practise. Do we need to reshape how we examine students for registration?

For our current pre-regs who had been left waiting for news, the decision has been made and they must work with the tools they have been given. Our fledgling pharmacists must use their experienced colleagues for support and we should invite their questions and guide them.

I should also hope that companies do not seek to profit from their provisional status – this would not only insult a new generation of professionals, but would also have a wider impact on those pharmacists already working.

Extreme environments often teach us better than a lecture theatre or a teacher can.  New pharmacists will need to learn quicker in uncertain times, which will provide them with resilience, grit and determination that will set them up well for a challenging career in healthcare.

When I passed my driving test, my instructor told me that it was only the beginning of learning how to drive. But these pharmacists have been handed the steering wheel without even the certainty that they would pass. It is up to us to assure them that registering as a pharmacist is only the beginning of lifelong learning, that they have support in their colleagues, and that we wish them the very best as they join us in practice.

Laura Buckley is a locum and PCN pharmacist based in Hull

Read the GPhC criteria for registering provisionally here

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