Every year, pharmacists from all over the world apply to practise in Britain. Some of them will need to complete the Overseas Pharmacist Assessment Programme before they can proceed. Haitham Hawary explains about the programme
Many overseas pharmacists apply to pursue a career in Britain every year. The Overseas Pharmacist Assessment Programme (OSPAP) was established in 20051 to help them develop the knowledge and skills necessary to practise in Britain. I am one of these pharmacists.
I applied to Aston University, passed the OSPAP in June 2010 and am currently a preregistration trainee in a community pharmacy. This article provides information about the OSPAP and gives advice to overseas pharmacists who are considering the same move.
Overseas pharmacists who wish to practise in Britain should send their primary qualification, International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination result form, CV, academic transcripts and other relevant documents to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for assessment and evaluation.
Once their qualifications and experience are deemed comparable to the UK system, they are then required to come to Britain to undertake the OSPAP. On passing the OSPAP, an overseas pharmacist’s qualification is considered equivalent to a UK qualification.
Alternatively, the outcome of the document assessment process can be that a candidate is required to attend a formal interview to assess his or her pharmaceutical knowledge. The candidate is then either allowed to attend the OSPAP or is required to complete the entire four-year UK pharmacy degree course.2
Most OSPAP candidates are overseas graduates who have moved to the UK. Some are already residents here and have decided to pursue a career in pharmacy while others, such as myself, have moved to the UK specifically to attend the OSPAP to pursue a career in pharmacy.
The OSPAP course can be costly, with tuition fees of around £13,000 — depending on the university — in addition to accommodation, transport and living expenses.
The OSPAP covers several subjects:
Attending the OSPAP prepares a candidate to practise as a preregistration trainee and provides an insight into several aspects of pharmaceutical practice in the UK, such as learning about laws and regulations.
The teaching style of the OSPAP focuses on problem-based learning rather than theoretical knowledge, which candidates would have learnt in their years of undergraduate education overseas. This enables candidates to identify diseases and conditions and counsel patients in an appropriate manner once they start their training.
For me, one of the main benefits of the programme was the student-mentor relationship that I developed with my teachers. They were always available to respond to any queries and to offer advice and support.
It requires a lot of time, dedication and effort to pass this programme. You are required to write essays, attend workshops, prepare presentations and perform in role-play situations.
Expenses can be a major issue, especially when there is no guaranteed job offer afterwards. This could be a particular problem for those who have families or partners that they have to provide for while they are studying. Moreover, finding a job as a preregistration trainee can be competitive, especially with the increasing number of graduates.
The timing of applications for preregistration placements can also be tricky. Candidates should consider applying for placements even before they complete the programme.
Although the OSPAP sounds daunting, I believe it is worth it because not only does it enable overseas pharmacists to work in the UK, it also increases their knowledge and enables them to direct their theoretical knowledge into practical skills.
Additionally, I like the ever expanding role of UK pharmacists, from the role of dispensing to providing services to promote healthy living. I believe a career in pharmacy in the UK is rewarding.
Overseas pharmacist programme in other countries
How does the UK programme compare with those in other countries? Here, you will find some information, which may be useful if you would like to practise abroad in the future.
To be able to practise in Canada, overseas pharmacists must first pass a document evaluation stage to ensure that their pharmacy degree is acceptable to the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada. Applicants then have to sit an evaluation examination to confirm that their study programme is comparable to that taught in Canada.
On successful completion of the examination, they then sit the pharmacist qualifying examination, which is composed of two parts: the multiple-choice questions section and the objective structured clinical examination section. After passing the examination, candidates then apply to the province where they want to work, where there are additional licensing requirements specific to each province.3
In the US each state has its own pharmaceutical register. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy administers a system accepted by most of the boards, whereby a candidate can be assessed and certified by the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC).4
Candidates who have received certification from the FPGEC are considered to have partially fulfilled the requirements for licensure in the states that accept the certification. They are then eligible to sit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy License Examination in one of those states, after which, on passing, they can obtain their licence to work as a pharmacist.
In Australia, candidates are required to undertake an examination (stage 1), followed by an interview, then a period of supervised practice up to 2,000 hours. After this, they must pass the National Forensics, Ethics and Calculations examination then another examination (stage 2).
On passing this process, candidates are issued with an Australian Pharmacy Council certificate, which enables them to register with any of the Australian pharmacy registering authorities.5
Haitham Hawary, originally from Alexandria, Egypt, is currently a preregistration trainee at Lloydspharmacy in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset