Concerns over high fail rate on Quebec nurse exam

A preliminary investigation into why more than half of candidates failed Quebec’s nurse licensing exam last fall has found “concerning elements” surrounding both the exam and student preparation.

This as the province is struggling to hire and retain nurses to work in the overburdened health-care system, like at Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital.

The hospital’s ER was closed earlier this week as nurses threatened to quit amid staff shortages and forced overtime. Nurses were being sent to help from other facilities.

Situation remains ‘precarious’ at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital

“This was pretty stressful,” says Kaya Achkar, one of many who failed Quebec’s nurse licensing exam. “I love what I do, I think that’s very essential in this line of work.”

Kaya Achkar


Kaya Achkar with her grand-mother.

After her grandmother underwent a knee replacement, Achkar was inspired to become a nurse.

Sept. 26 was her first attempt at Quebec’s nurse licensing exam.

“We arrived at like 7:30 in the morning,” she explained. “Couldn’t sleep the night before, obviously!”

After a month of studying, while balancing a new job in the field she was surprised to have failed.

Only 45.5 per cent of candidates passed the exam, compared to a pass rate between 63 and 96 per cent in previous sittings.

“It really kind of made us question like not ourselves, but question the exam,” said Achkar.

Photo prior to nursing exam.

Roberto Bomba, executive officer with the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec asking, “why is it that this time it’s an issue?”

“The pandemic? The way this the education was given,” he added. “Virtual partially, trainings, stages. All that has to be seen.”

Some students have said the fall nursing exam represented their final chance to pass, since it can only be attempted three times. The commissioner recommended that candidates who failed for the third time in September be allowed another chance to take the test.

“That’s one of the recommendations that we see in a favorable way,” said Bomba.

READ MORE: Commissioner recommends delaying Quebec nurse exam amid concerns over high fail rate


Another recommendation, is to push back the next date to write the exam while the probe continues.

“If you don’t hold this exam, you’ll still have nurses for whatever reason either they’re leaving the profession because of workload,” explained Bomba. “That’s another issue.”

“Some will retire,” he added. “So it leads to an imbalance of incoming versus outcoming.”

A Montreal nurse for 20 years, Naveed Hussain says a big issue he sees is nurses entering the province who have only four years to pass a French-language exam.

They are given a temporary license and if they don’t pass the exam, wont be able to become a licensed nurse in Quebec.

“Help them learn French at the same time,” he explained. “Rather than have them wait, you know, and take years to learn the language and then finally get into the system.”

On Friday Ottawa, seemingly inching closer to making a deal with provincial governments for expanded funding to help deal with the ailing healthcare system.

READ MORE: Feds, provinces reportedly close to health-care deal to expand funding

“We hear about the forced overtime, we hear about the fact that we’re short-staffed,” said Hussain. “But the impact we make upon people is incredible.”

An impact Achkar is proud to be a part of.

“It’s rewarding being in this line of work,” she said. “I really wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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