Working as a pharmacist in Canada is a dream come true for Reham Ibrahim. She thanks the ISANS Career Pathway Loan Fund for helping to make it happen. “We had our savings but studying and buying books is not cheap,” says Reham. “ISANS has been a very good support to me right from the beginning, from translating our driver’s license to the employment specialist to the program instructor.”
Reham and her husband came here in 2012 with two daughters, Jumana, now 15 and Rawan, 11. She had graduated as a pharmacist from the University of Alexandria in her homeland of Egypt in 1995 but had to pass exams to practise here. She applied for the loan through her ISANS Employment Specialist. “The procedure wasn’t complicated,” she says. Reham took part in a day-long workshop and also met with a bank to learn how to manage the loan. She participated in study groups with other international pharmacists to help study and prepare for exams.
It was a 2 ½ year process to complete the evaluating and qualifying exams. Although she was already trained, she found her studies interesting and learned new things. “The basics are the same but there are additional things regarding regulations and the way things are done here that are a little different than in the Middle East.” She adds that her Employment Specialist introduced her to pharmacist Jamie Flynn, owner of the Medicine Shoppe on Lacewood Drive who became her informal mentor. “I consider him a role model for me. He does his job with love and care.”
Reham was licensed in January 2015, and has been working as a relief pharmacist, covering shifts in four pharmacies — two Shoppers Drug Marts, a Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy and a Guardian. “I’m starting my career step by step and in time I’ll do my own networking and be recognized as a good pharmacist.” Competition is strong here from both internationally and locally trained pharmacists, so Reham attends workshops and takes online courses to accumulate continuing education credits. “I try to get a higher profile each time I apply for a job.” She says helping people is in her nature and she always wanted to be a doctor or a pharmacist. “The role of pharmacist is as important as a physician – they complement each other. We are more accessible, we are a phone call away,” says Reham, adding that she hopes to have her own pharmacy one day.
Her husband, a physician, worked with international pharmaceutical companies in Egypt but as a licensed naturopath he is now a partner in a naturopath clinic and is studying for a nutrition diploma. Reham admits their family enjoyed a comfortable quality of life in Egypt and had to make sacrifices here. “Financial support was the biggest challenge for us. Life here is expensive.” But they’ve settled well and enjoy the community. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy step. We were thinking of our kids’ future. We wanted to guarantee a better life and education for them.” She enrolled her daughters in an international French school at home so they would arrive in Canada fluent in French and English. They are straight A students. Both are athletic and Jumana plays in a local competitive squash league. The family returns each year to Egypt to visit family.
Reham thinks highly of ISANS and encourages other immigrants to ask for help. “It was a big accomplishment. I’m very proud of myself and I’m grateful to people here at ISANS.”