Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, mesdames et messieurs and members of Parliament.
It is my great pleasure to appear today before the committee. Our association understands that the committee is looking for feedback on foreign credential recognition, particularly in our experience with the foreign credentials recognition program of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Let me first explain to you who we are. NAPRA is our acronym and it stands for the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities. It is a not-for-profit organization that was established over 15 years ago and represents all provincial and territorial pharmacy licensing authorities, whose mandate is, as you know, the protection of the public. Our membership also extends beyond the traditional geographic border to include the Canadian Forces pharmacy services. One of the fundamental goals of the organization is to enable our members to take a national approach in addressing common issues.
Our members play a key role to ensure that optimal regulatory practices are in place for a safe practice environment for the benefit of all Canadians. Over 33,000 pharmacies are licensed by our members across the country to practise pharmacy and operate within specific regulatory practices and requirements. NAPRA members are responsible to set the licensing requirements for the practice of pharmacy in their respective jurisdictions. They also have to ensure that the persons seeking licences qualify and meet core practice requirements. These core practice requirements are set by our members and can be found in our association's mobility agreement for Canadian pharmacists, which was renewed in 2009.
With regard to the internationally educated pharmacists, in addition to the need for meeting the core practice requirements they are also encouraged to first familiarize themselves with the way in which pharmacies practise in Canada. They can then move to the first mandatory step, which is the evaluation of the individual's educational background, which is conducted by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada, or l'Ordre des Pharmaciens du Québec for candidates applying in that province.
Once the candidate's documents are evaluated and the education level and knowledge area successfully compared against the Canadian pharmacy program, the internationally educated pharmacist will determine the most appropriate next step. For instance, some individuals may wish to immediately apply to write the national examination administered by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada. However, for others, perhaps pursuing the mastering of English or French language skills might be more appropriate to do next. Pharmacy bridging programs, geared specifically for internationally educated pharmacists, are also offered in a few locations throughout the country for people who wish to strengthen their knowledge and skills prior to writing the national exam.
Taking a step back for a moment, I mentioned that while NAPRA's members worked on the renewal of the mobility agreement for Canadian pharmacists, they also identified a need to examine issues surrounding internationally educated pharmacists who definitely want to become licensed to practice pharmacy in Canada. During this time our members had access to a report generated as part of the initiative, entitled “Moving Forward: Pharmacy Human Resources for the Future”. This initiative was led by our colleague association, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, with funding from the federal government. This report specifically examined at that time the barriers and facilitators for the integration of international pharmacy graduates into the Canadian pharmacy workforce. In order to overcome the challenges observed regarding the integration of internationally educated pharmacists into the pharmacy workforce in Canada, specific recommendations were formulated in this report.
In building upon those recommendations found in the report and the need to look at approaches to continue improving our members' licensing processes, particularly in the context of labour mobility, NAPRA applied to the foreign credentials recognition program in 2009 to seek funding for the project we call the “International Pharmacy Graduates' Gateway to Canada Project”.
This is the only project NAPRA has under this program, although we have had others under the labour mobility component of HRDC. The filing of our association's application coincided with the development of the pan-Canadian framework on the assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications developed by federal, provincial, and territorial governments.
I would like to provide you with some information about the project and our experience with the program. The project's overall goal is to help our members continue to provide a fair, accessible, transparent, and rigorous service that will continue optimizing the effectiveness and efficiency of registering the international pharmacy candidates. The project also aims to standardize or streamline the processes on the path to licensure.
The project consists of developing a plain-language website that functions as the single point of access for international pharmacy graduates wanting to become licensed to practise pharmacy in Canada. The funding also provides for the development of on-line self-assessment tools to help international pharmacy graduates evaluate their skills and make decisions to determine whether they are ready to initiate the licensure process.
In addition, a national, shared database is being developed that will serve to create an applicant file, collect general information, and provide reporting statistics. At this time, it's too early to speak about the results of the project, as it is set to conclude by the end of June 2013. I can, however, mention that the benefits of this project will be important, as the gateway is designed to offer a single-window and pan-Canadian approach to licensure, to provide quick access to clear and up-to-date information on licensure requirements, to help our internationally educated pharmacists to manage their expectations with regard to the reality of Canadian pharmacy practice and the licensure process, and to help them identify any skills gaps that they may have.
Our experience to date with the foreign credential recognition program is very positive. I can point to the excellent guidance provided by government representatives throughout the entire process. We have not had any problems navigating through the process, including the program's requirement for rigorous reporting and audits.
Our association is appreciative of the opportunity we have, under this funded project, to undertake this innovative initiative on behalf of our members. This initiative would have probably not been possible otherwise. We look forward to continuing to work with HRDC as the project evolves.
Before closing, I'd like to take a look at the future. We believe there should be a constant re-examination of the labour market's information on supply and demand. It's currently being discussed among pharmacy organizations and it's been recently communicated to the foreign credentials referral office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Health Canada that although the issue of labour shortages was previously identified for pharmacists in Canada, recent developments appear to have had an impact on the labour market.
Two examples of these recent developments are the expansion of the scope of practice for pharmacists and the increase in the number of students accepted into our Canadian pharmacy programs. We believe that an ongoing pharmacy manpower study would be useful in understanding the impact resulting from these developments.
In conclusion, we would like to thank you again for giving us the opportunity to speak about the program. Thank you, and I'm pleased to answer any questions.