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Shams Qaend fills Prescription for Professional Development

Shams Qaend is a problem-solver. When students at her university had no central place to share notes, lecture recordings and materials, she built one. When the pharmacology research unit she worked with needed databases for cross-departmental sharing, she built several. And then, when Shams came to Canada everything went silent.

“Landing in Canada is like hitting the factory re-set button on your phone,” Shams explained in a recent telephone interview. “Except, you’re re-setting yourself as a human being. Whatever you know, whatever you have learned, doesn’t matter. You have to go through the Canadian system.”

A Doctor of Pharmacy in her country of origin, Shams found herself unqualified to practice as a pharmacist here in Canada.

“It just shocked me how difficult it seemed and there were so many who just give up! I was especially bothered by all the ladies I met in their 30s and 40s who had owned pharmacies in their home countries, or who were doctors and other medical professionals. And then they come to Canada and they put their own dreams on the back burner and say, ‘oh, I am just going to stay home and cook for the kids.’ It’s a waste! And I knew once they started doing their exams and earning salaries, everything would change for them and for their families.”

Through her experiences, Shams saw a need for a central educational platform that would help other foreign trained medical professional navigate the Canadian system for re-qualification. So, she built one. is an online learning portal where pharmacists and other Internationally Educated Healthcare Professionals, or IEHPs, can start the process of re-qualification, or explore alternative career paths that leverage their knowledge and experience. At the moment, students can access professional development and exam prep courses in English and Arabic.

“Right now we are working mostly with people who are already in Canada and they are our main focus because of their fear of the English language,” Shams said.  “While most of them really can read, write, speak and understand, they still feel uncomfortable or not confident enough in English, so we bring them together with Canadian licensed, regulated pharmacists who speak Arabic. We started with preparation for the first Pharmacy Exam Board Canada (PBEC) preparation course in Arabic.”

Shams also knew that changes were creating more opportunities.

“The PEBC recently made it possible to take the first re-qualification exam online, which means people no longer have to wait until they arrive in Canada to start the process!” Shams exclaimed. “Now that people can start preparing themselves in their own countries where they have the support of their families and their jobs and routines, the possibilities for a smoother transition to life in Canada are so much greater.”

The pandemic has put a hyper focus on e-learning and Shams is considering her expansion plans.

While there are many programs to help newcomers adjust to life in Canada, it has been said that the programs put a higher value on taking any job to survive than on searching out a job that enables IEHPs to truly thrive.

“The highest demand is for job ready courses,” Shams said.  “Sure, there are a lot of government-funded job search courses, but they are not specialized enough and the teachers are not experienced in the field. So we reduce the cost of training and make sure they are ready to do jobs that pay over $80K. And, of course, we are choosing highly-qualified people to teach these courses who have wide networks to open doors for their students.”

These current expansion plans are possible because Shams took the Starter Company Plus Program through the City of Mississauga and received valuable training and mentoring.

“I am a huge fan of the program,” Shams said. “When I sat down with my mentor and went through the business plan, she showed me how my model was limiting me and wouldn’t be sustainable. The business couldn’t grow because the commissions were just too low.  Now, because of their help, we have a model that is fairer for everyone and we can do even more.” is one prescription for helping internationally-trained pharmacists gain a foothold in the Canadian workforce.

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