By a provisionally registered pharmacist.

There is no doubt that this pandemic has been challenging for so many healthcare professionals across the whole system, both in the hospital and in the community sectors. As a pre-registration pharmacist, who stepped into a pandemic in the middle of their training, I can definitely say it has been the toughest experience.

I, along with many other pre-registration pharmacists, faced so many uncertainties – including not knowing what was going to happen to our registration assessment when the pandemic first hit the country. The GPhC at the time asked us to focus on playing our part in this pandemic and helping in the best way we can, which meant that preparing for the assessment was put on hold.

Some of us including myself have children, and this made the situation far more complicated. Even though the schools were open to parents who are healthcare professionals, at the beginning our school didn’t count pharmacists and pharmacy staff in this, until the Government gave a clarification on this matter.

My son’s school was open for only six hours, which didn’t cover my whole shift. My manager and my tutor were amazingly supportive but there was no clarification on what was going to happen if we worked less than the required number of hours per week before we could sit the exam.

I was extremely stressed at the time; I wasn’t sure about my job security and how I was going to prepare for the exam. I had saved all my annual leave for the year so that I could take it closer to the exam time, but due to the pandemic and the shortage of staff, I didn’t use it as planned.

The anxiety didn’t end after the GPhC released a statement to say that we were going to be provisionally registered and that we still needed to do the assessment at a later date.

Starting a new job in a pandemic has its own challenges. But the uncertainties of not knowing when the exam was going to be and how we were going to do the assessment, in addition to our own struggles with the pandemic like not being able to travel or see our families or friends, made it all much worse.

After we waited patiently for the exam date for months, the GPhC released a statement saying it will be during the first quarter of the year – again no actual date. The disappointment with how the GPhC handled the whole situation continued.

Defer to June

When the exam date was finally announced, we were already in the third lockdown. The hospital where I worked was full of Covid patients and we had several staff who were self-isolating or who were already off on annual leave.

The stress of a new job, the shortage of staff, the delay of the exam date announcement, childcare problems again and the stress of studying for the exam left me in extreme anxiety.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I should apply for the exam, but when I made up my mind to take it in March, I was unable to get any annual leave – which I wanted to use to prepare for the exam – approved due to staff shortages. Without the time I needed to prepare for the exam, I was left with only one option: to defer until June.

My mental health has suffered a lot and I am still very stressed about the whole situation. This has also affected my family: my son was very upset by how stressed I was. Like many children, his mental health suffered because of the pandemic, but to see his mother in such a distressing situation was even more upsetting for him.

The handling of the pre-reg exam has significantly impacted my mental health and I have lost my trust in our pharmaceutical council as a result. I believe that the GPhC left us in the dark for too long and should have secured us more support from our employers.

Our role as provisionally registered pharmacists in this pandemic has been undermined, and I do not believe that we have received the appreciation and attention we deserve.

The GPhC issued an apology to candidates on 2 March in response to issues with the exam booking system, which can be read in full here.