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‘Why I moved from the UK to Canada to work as a pharmacist’

"UK community pharmacy is being eroded in favour of hub-and-spoke dispensing"

A yearning for developing more clinical skills led pharmacist Paul Scott-Harris to move from the UK to Canada

I am a pharmacist with 11 years of experience working in the UK. A few years ago, I became very disillusioned with pharmacy in the UK due to a lack of leadership from our professional bodies in supporting and leading the profession. Time after time the UK government has failed to support community pharmacy.

I know the reasons behind this are complex, but the truth is that in my opinion UK community pharmacy is being gradually eroded in favour of the hub-and-spoke dispensing model of pharmacy provision. Simply put, community pharmacy is becoming a medicine supply service rather than a clinical service offered at the point of patient need.

I had lofty ambitions for pharmacy in the UK earlier in my career. Although some of the ambitions, such as working with GP practices and local professional networks, have come to fruition, our clinical skills have not been developed or applied as much as they could have been. Pharmacist self-development is often not supported by the bigger pharmacy chains.

But I had a vision for developing my clinical practice in a community setting, so I looked abroad. I had been working as a pharmacy manager for a large multiple. My family and I moved to British Columbia, Canada in 2019.

Pharmacy in Canada

Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories with a similar system to our UK counties but on a much larger scale. Each province and territory may make some of its own laws and this includes pharmacy practice. Pharmacy in Canada differs between the provinces. Some allow community pharmacists to be independent prescribers while others are more restricted.

Canada has two national languages, English and French, with some provinces having one or the other as their primary language.

In order to determine where in Canada would be a good choice, my family and I took a summer vacation to Vancouver. We visited several cities in British Columbia over a two-week period. We quickly identified Victoria on Vancouver Island as a great place to live and work.

Victoria is a beautiful city with excellent amenities and lots of history. It is home to some impressive legislative buildings and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery and wildlife found on the Pacific coastline, including salmon, eagles, whales, bears and cougars.

The Indeed jobs website is extensively used in Canada. Here you can find many pharmacy roles, including pharmacy assistant positions to pharmacy manager level. The fact that pharmacists are in high demand here in Victoria gave me the right amount of confidence to consider a career as a pharmacist in the country.

Advice for pharmacists moving to Canada

If you move to Canada from the UK, you will need to have your pharmacy credentials accredited by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC). This is the first stage of the registration process, which grants you the ability to apply for the PEBC registration examinations. The process costs more than £2,000 in total.

You will also need to obtain a work visa or, for long-term migrants, apply for a permanent resident status. Work visas require you to have a job offer from a Canadian business based in the province you are applying for. The work permit is the easiest option of the two to obtain. You can apply for both statuses using the Canadian government website or employ a local lawyer to complete the application for you.

It’s normal in Canadian culture to contact the person who posted a role to discuss whether it would be a good fit for you to have a training placement for the business, before you apply for the role.

Pharmacy practice is very different in community pharmacy in British Columbia primarily because there is legislation in place protecting the role of the pharmacist that allows only a pharmacist to provide medicines information within a pharmacy. There are no healthcare assistants on the medicines counter because registered pharmacists provide this service and technicians cannot provide medicines information to a patient.

More pharmacy-only (P) medicines are available on self-selection in British Columbia, so the numbers of queries are fewer than those within UK community pharmacy. Often, queries are from patients requiring advice once an initial treatment has been tried.

The PEBC website is very helpful for exam content and provides some sample exam questions. Be cautious about the PEBC exams, as they’re more in depth than the UK pre-registration exam and they assess everything from chemistry and pharmaceutics to pharmacology and evidence-based medicine.

The main training platform in Canada, which has some great materials, is PharmAchieve.com. Be honest with yourself about the exam, your ability and the time required to pass the exams. I made the mistake of underestimating the amount of time required to both study and work and my balance was not right. Always remember to keep positive and remain focused on your desired outcome of becoming a practicing pharmacist in Canada.

Paul Scott-Harris is a former UK pharmacy manager who is working towards his Canadian pharmacy registration exams

*The headline of this article was changed on April 16 from "I became so disillusioned with UK pharmacy I moved to Canada" following a request from the author

1 Comments

R A, Community pharmacist

Good luck Paul! I happen to have similar years of experience and have come to the same conclusion that community pharmacy in UK is beyond repair. I genuinely think the problem was due to over commercialisation of the profession which caused the rot in the sector. I think this process destroyed the heart of pharmacy.

The sector has become a souless supply chain making it perfect for the likes of Amazon, Deliveroo or other online pharmacy to provide service. In the long run the public will lose out. 

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