More than 200 recent pharmacy graduates were mistakenly told they failed the national pharmacy board exam when they had actually passed it, MedPage Today has learned.
In some cases, the error — likely caused by a software glitch, and occurring for the second year in a row — led to lost employment or residency opportunities, sources said.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) sent letters stating scores were incorrectly calculated to 220 affected candidates who sat for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) between July 30 and October 26, and these were shared with MedPage Today.
NABP’s website noted that all NAPLEX tests taken between those dates had been “rescored and reverified after an apparent third-party software error was identified.”
NABP also said that all candidates “who received incorrect examination results have been notified via email, and their exam results have been updated.” All major pharmacy stakeholders, including the boards of pharmacy, colleges of pharmacy, and the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, had been notified as well, the notice said.
In a separate statement, NABP issued an apology to affected candidates: “On behalf of everyone at NABP, we apologize for this error. We understand people are feeling confused and frustrated. Our top priority is working with the impacted candidates, and we are reaching out to residency programs, employers, and other stakeholders.”
NABP also said in the letter to affected candidates that it was “working with the software vendor to fully understand the cause of the error and prevent its recurrence.”
Not the First Time
It is the second year in a row that the NAPLEX has experienced scoring errors, according to numerous reports from last year. Last fall, 430 graduates were informed that they had either received an incorrect passing score or an incorrect failing score.
The issue was viewed by some as a blow to the credibility of the licensing process. David Dent, a first-year pharmacy resident and the host of the podcast OVERxDOSE, said the repeated incidents have been problematic for pharmacy candidates.
“The fact that this has happened a second time means NABP has not put adequate verification measures in place,” Dent told MedPage Today. “Receiving a failing score on the NAPLEX means you can’t practice as a pharmacist. Their error caused as many as 220 people to lose their jobs, lose out on job offers, and forced some to leave their residencies.”
Tony Guerra, PharmD, the host of the Pharmacy Residency Podcast, was one of the first people to report both the current scoring errors and the 2021 incident.
“It’s a big deal,” Guerra told MedPage Today. “What’s the impact on the people that have been [affected]? And how do you just all of a sudden figure this out?”
Guerra said the mistake might have been caught in time to inform residency programs that candidates had in fact passed the exam and received their licenses.
“When you’re talking about a resident, they have to be licensed within a certain amount of time,” he said. “They’re having those difficult conversations with their bosses and their residency program directors, and all of a sudden all is forgiven, all is well.”
“But there were a couple [of candidates] on Reddit that said, I’ve lost my job, so they’ll be more impacted,” Guerra added.
‘Something’s Not Right’
One of the candidates affected by this scoring error spoke with MedPage Today about her experience on the condition of anonymity. After her graduation in May, she signed up to take the NAPLEX over the summer. She failed her first attempt, so she scheduled another for early September. Ten days after taking the test a second time, she received an email stating that she had failed again.
The second failed score had a major impact on her life, she said. First she lost the pharmacist position her employer, a local pharmacy, had been holding open. Then she was demoted from a graduate intern, making $20 an hour, to a pharmacy tech, making $15 an hour.
“I know my employers were devastated,” she told MedPage Today. “They didn’t really want to talk to me about it. Everything went very silent. The other pharmacists that I work with were very supportive throughout that time period when I was kind of coping and trying to realize, ‘Okay, I’ve failed for a second time, something’s not right.'”
She paid for and submitted an application to have her exam re-scored to confirm her suspicions. At the end of September, she received an email from the NABP stating that her failing score was correct. Despite feeling intensely stressed after that email, she said she paid more than $2,500 for NAPLEX tutoring and scheduled a third attempt for December. Each exam cost her nearly $600.
Then, on November 8, she received an email from the NABP stating that her September exam was miscalculated and that she had, in fact, passed the NAPLEX.
She said she was shocked and relieved to read the letter, but was also frustrated given everything the mistaken fail had cost her. She tallied up some $25,000 in lost wages and payments to train for and take the NAPLEX again. Even after she received the NABP’s letter, her employer was only able to offer her a part-time pharmacist position instead of the full-time position she was originally offered — a difference of 8 hours each week.
“I was so relieved I cried happy tears,” she said. “I read the letter numerous times. I called my mom immediately. She started crying. I called my employer as well, and he was ecstatic. But he couldn’t believe what I had been put through by the NABP. During this whole time, since September, I should have been working as a pharmacist and having pharmacist pay.”
This story is just one of 220, Dent said, and these stories should compel the NABP be more proactive in their effort to make things right for these individuals. He also noted that while the NABP did well to discover the error and promise reimbursement for test-related fees, they should consider doing more to address the other problems these incorrect scores caused people.
“NABP offering to refund these fees and sending an apology letter for their ‘profound error’ is not nearly enough,” Dent said. “This error left people in terrible financial situations. It changed people’s professional trajectories in irreparable ways. No amount of money will be enough to make up for the time lost studying for a retake, or come close to repairing the emotional and professional toll it has had on those affected. I really hope the class action lawsuit happens so people can have some relief after NABP’s life-altering mistake. I hope after all of this, NABP ensures this doesn’t happen again.”