Canada has two official languages: English and French. English is the most common language spoken in most provinces and territories. French is most spoken in Quebec, as well as parts of Ontario, New Brunswick (the only officially bilingual province in Canada), and in French-speaking communities across Canada.
One of the biggest challenges faced by international pharmacy graduates (IPGs) when they come to Canada is the language barrier. Pharmacists rely on their ability to communicate effectively with patients, staff and other health professionals. A significant role of a Canadian pharmacist involves counselling patients and their family members. Patients rely on pharmacists to provide expert advice and respond to questions about medications and health concerns.
Many tasks in the pharmacy also require a lot of verbal communication, as well as reading and writing. Pharmacists must often review drug information, complete forms and correspond with other health professionals, pharmacy managers and suppliers.
All pharmacy regulatory authorities (PRAs) require IPGs to meet language proficiency requirements. This can be accomplished by taking a language proficiency test and achieving a minimum score in each of the categories for reading, writing, speaking and listening, as indicated in the NAPRA Language Proficiency Requirements for Licensure as a Pharmacist in Canada, or by meeting non-objective evidence of language proficiency as determined by the individual PRA. Candidates should note that not all PRAs have policies in place for non-objective evidence of language proficiency.
Although these language tests can indicate a basic knowledge of English or French, pharmacists must be able to communicate and understand the language at a much more advanced level that includes many technical components associated with being trained as a pharmacist and healthcare professional.
Candidates who do not speak English or French at an advanced level are strongly advised to begin language training as soon as possible. Doing this will significantly increase their chances of success in all the steps involved in obtaining a licence.
Language Proficiency Criteria
Each province and territory specify language proficiency as a requirement for licensure.
NAPRA Language Proficiency Requirement
The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) has established basic language proficiency standards to assess speaking, reading, writing and listening skills for IPGs.
Communication is seen as one of the biggest challenges for many internationally educated health professionals in adapting to the Canadian workplace.
It is essential to understand that, although candidates may meet the standards on one of the available language tests, this will demonstrate only a basic level of ability. Health professionals require much more advanced communication skills to function with greater confidence and provide safe and effective care.
Communication also involves non-verbal interactions and cultural rules, norms and traditions such as eye-contact, hand gestures, facial expressions and personal space. People of different cultures and from different regions in Canada will often speak using slang terms and informal language and communicate with non-verbal gestures acceptable within the culture of their community.
All PRAs require IPGs to meet language proficiency requirements. This can be accomplished by taking a language proficiency test and achieving a minimum score in each of the categories for reading, writing, speaking and listening, as indicated in the NAPRA Language Proficiency Requirements for Licensure as a Pharmacist in Canada, or by meeting non-objective evidence of language proficiency as determined by the individual PRA. Candidates should note that not all PRAs have policies in place for non-objective evidence of language proficiency.
Candidates that have received a degree in pharmacy from an accredited Canadian or American university program will not be required to take English language proficiency testing unless a trigger suggests that a test for language proficiency is required. Triggers include, but are not limited to:
- A pharmacist, recognized as a preceptor, identifies a candidate who has demonstrated less than adequate language proficiency
- A complaint is received from a patient, customer or health professional about a candidate concerning a lack of language proficiency
English Language Testing
A pharmacist who has completed a pharmacy degree from an educational institution outside of Canada or the United States must provide proof of having passed an English language test.
The results of that test must be forwarded directly by the examiner to NAPRA, Suite 1800, 130 Albert Street, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5G4, Attention: Gateway Operations, or be available online through a special secure portal set up by the examiner. Once received and verified, it will be stored in the candidate’s secure profile for use by the pharmacy regulatory authority (PRA) during the licensure process.
The results of candidates that have taken the language proficiency test through the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) can be made available online through a secure portal and do not have to be sent by mail to Pharmacists’ Gateway Canada.
Candidates who completed the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based test (TOEFL iBT) may submit a scanned copy of their language test results to [email protected]. They must also ensure that the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities is the destination institution (DI code 7603). This will allow Pharmacists’ Gateway Canada to confirm the language test results.
The following chart provides the scores required for several NAPRA-approved English language examinations. Test scores are only valid for two years.
French Language Testing
French Language Requirements in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario
The provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario have significant numbers of French-speaking individuals and communities, and so English or French language fluency is acceptable in those provinces.
A minimum score of 5 in each of four testing categories for the Test pour étudiants et stagiaires au Canada (TESTcan) is required.
For specific information about French language requirements in each of these provinces, candidates will need to consult directly with the licensing authorities:
- College of Pharmacists of Manitoba
- New Brunswick College of Pharmacists
- Ontario College of Pharmacists
French Language Requirements in Quebec
Candidates wishing to practise in Quebec should know that French language proficiency is required to practise. To prove that they meet the standard for fluency in French, candidates must have one of the following:
- Completed no fewer than three years of full-time secondary or post-secondary instruction in French;
- Passed the fourth- or fifth-year secondary-level examinations in French as the first language;
- A secondary school certificate in Quebec, from or after the school year 1985-86; or,
- A certificate issued by the Office québécois de la langue française, or a certificate defined as equivalent by the government.
Candidates that do not meet these requirements must successfully pass a French language examination with the Office québécois de la langue française. The examination contains four categories: oral comprehension, oral expression, written expression and comprehension of a text. If the candidates pass all four categories, the Ordre des pharmaciens du Québec (OPQ) may give them a licence, providing that they have met all other requirements to obtain a licence to practise pharmacy. Candidates can also receive an interim licence if they have registered for, but have not yet completed, the exam. Also, if they do not pass the examination, OPQ will give them an interim licence valid for 12 months. This interim licence can be renewed under certain conditions.