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COVID-19 delays certification for hundreds of physiotherapy graduates

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Hundreds of physiotherapy graduates across Canada haven't been able to become fully certified. As Jessie Weisner explains, regulatory bodies say COVID-19 is to blame – Sep 17, 2020

Hundreds of physiotherapy students across Canada haven’t been able to become fully licensed because of delays caused by COVID-19.

Roughly 575 students have been waiting since June to take the ‘hands-on’ component of the Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE), but still don’t have an exact date.

In March, the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) made the decision to postpone the exams scheduled for May, June, and July to November.

Exams are going ahead in November, but last week, word came that some graduates may have to wait longer.

Read more: Alberta physiotherapists face challenges getting services to clients amid COVID-19

“In recent weeks, we have seen our exam capacity drop rapidly due to the closure of exam testing sites situated within hospitals and on university campuses,” the CAPR said in a statement.

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“At our remaining exam sites, physical distancing requirements and exam site staff availabilities are reducing exam capacity further. On Sept. 10, we concluded that we would not be able to test all of the candidates who registered for the November exam.”

Without the certification, graduates aren’t able to perform certain treatments and need to be supervised by a certified physiotherapist.

“We can’t do things like needling or manipulations, or some of my classmates in the hospitals, they can’t do anything like suctioning for pneumonia, or there are some things as well like public health, we’re not allowed to go and treat in that,” said Xavier David, a physiotherapy intern.

Xavier David
Xavier David, a physiotherapy intern who has been waiting for months to obtain his full certification. Tom Reynolds/Global News

On top of restrictions on treatments, students who are currently working for Alberta Health Services are paid 90 per cent of what an entry-level physiotherapist earns, because they don’t have their final certification — which typically comes when they receive the results of their final exam, 10 to 12 weeks after taking it.

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“It has impacts on your ability to develop your career, it has impacts on your income for 10 years after graduation,” David said.

“It also impacts Canadians and Albertans because they’re not able to receive the care that they need.”

Read more: Alberta physiotherapists face challenges getting services to clients amid COVID-19

David, along with other graduates, has been pushing for alternative methods to take the exam. Some suggestions include holding the exam virtually or certifying all candidates without the exam.

“One of the things we were really hoping and pushing for initially is a contingency plan in place so all the candidates that have registered for the June exam actually go through with testing,” said David.

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) says it’s working with the CAPR, and emphasizes the exam is a critical component for licensed members of the self-regulated practice.

“They are working to get as many people to challenge the PCE as possible, as quickly as they can without sacrificing the critical role the PCE plays in maintaining our standard; while being considerate of the public health risks we are all facing throughout this pandemic,” said a statement issued by the CPA.

Read more: Alberta physiotherapists adapt to COVID-19 guidelines

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The APCA said it’s monitoring the situation as well.

As of now, it’s unknown when and how the exams will be issued. The CAPR said it’s exploring all options and will provide updates in as timely a manner as possible.