Marwa Elshiekh: Taking a Chance

At 32, Marwa Elshiekh packed her bags, flew from Alexandria, Egypt, to Canada and traveled around seeking a place to settle.  She had always wanted to live in Canada.  “I thought, I will just go and if I don’t like it, I’ll come back.  I always hate: ‘what if…’”

The timing was perfect as she wanted to leave Egypt before the revolution. “Sometimes you feel things aren’t right, but you can’t do anything about it. Maybe this was the easy way out.”  Settling in a new country is far from easy. Marwa quickly discovered the difficulty of getting credentials to work in Quebec as a pharmacist, so she came to Halifax in December 2008.  She liked the size of the city, and being on the water reminded her of Alexandria. Finding an apartment was surprisingly difficult without credit history but she was eventually welcomed by a Lebanese apartment owner to a building where she still lives.

Marwa came to ISANS for information about working in this province as a pharmacist. She contacted the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists examining board and proceeded to study for a year. One qualifying exam was particularly daunting – simulations of real-life problems where 20 stations were set up with someone at each one, ready to present a scenario she had to solve in seven minutes. Some exams were helpful, but others not so. “The rules here are not the same, but the medicines are. Tylenol here is the same as Tylenol in Egypt,” Marwa says with a chuckle. And despite graduating from a private language school and growing up perfectly bilingual in English and Arabic, she also took language testing.

Meanwhile she was dropping off her resume at local drug stores. “I would always ask when the owner is in; that is the best way to do it.”  For six months she worked at Shoppers’ Drug Mart on Almond Street as part of the ISANS Wage Subsidy Program. She also did her necessary five-month internship. She was earning less than she was accustomed to, but she had wisely saved money from working six years in Saudi Arabia. “If I want to do something, I have to afford it myself,” says the determined Marwa.

ISANS also supported her to write her exams. “If it weren’t for ISANS there is no way I could have passed. Their moral support made me feel I wasn’t alone.”  She was resolute in her goals and worked hard.  “I spent five years studying and nine years working.  I wasn’t going to waste 14 years of my life.” She passed her February exams, and Shoppers Drug Mart, realizing they had a valuable employee, kept her on.  She is happy working there as she finds the system more organized and controlled compared to Egypt and she often helps Arabic-speaking clients.

Marwa encourages her immigrant customers to visit ISANS. “They treat you like a relative. They want to help you in any way they can.  And you feel it’s because they love to do this, not because it’s their job.” Marwa has no intentions of leaving Halifax. “My patients prayed for me to pass my exams. You don’t find that in a big city.”