Overwhelmed with administrative tasks, an intern found her workplace “suffocating and undoubtedly stressful” and was desperate to get a different job… so she faked her practice hours to get away
A former pharmacy honours student and intern, who had been granted general registration under false pretences, has been reprimanded and struck off for at least six months by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The Office of the Health Ombudsman alleged that the pharmacist’s behaviour constituted professional misconduct when she claimed to have completed her supervised practice requirements – despite having more than 650 hours to go before she reached the minimum number of hours.
The pharmacist had begun her internship in January 2018, working at the pharmacy where the behaviour occurred from before her internship, until late September 2018.
From late September, she began to work part-time.
The Tribunal made note of the requirements for interns to work a minimum number of hours of supervised practice during their internship: 1824 hours, which interns are expected to keep a record of, and preceptors are required to sign each week.
In early December 2018, the intern brought a statutory declaration, relating to a weekly record of supervised practice hours, to a pharmacist at a different store in Brisbane.
This statutory declaration stated that the intern had completed 1844 supervised hours.
It appeared to have been signed by the intern’s preceptor, the complainant in the matter.
The intern brought the statutory declaration to the second pharmacist to have the preceptor’s signature witnessed – and the second pharmacist signed it, “purporting to witness the signature of the complainant, despite the document already having been signed”.
The intern had not completed her minimum supervised hours at all – and the preceptor had not signed the declaration.
“The respondent had dishonestly altered the hours recorded in the document, by erasing them and replacing them with a higher figure, and she had forged the complainant’s signature on the statutory declaration,” the Tribunal observed.
Still in December 2018, the intern submitted the false declaration to the Pharmacy Board in an application for general registration as a pharmacist.
“The discrepancy between the supervised hours actually worked, and the number of hours required for registration was 677.5 hours,” wrote the Tribunal.
The Board granted the intern her registration, though she was not entitled to be registered.
The preceptor became aware that the intern had become registered as a pharmacist in January 2019, and complained to the Office of the Ombudsman that day.
When dealing with Ahpra’s ensuing investigation, the intern made full admissions about her conduct.
“I had originally written several of my hours in pencil. The declaration was never signed weekly but in one go,” she said in a written submission.
“In other words (the complainant), would either sign the declaration several months at a time or in some cases, pre-signed a few fortnights as the rosters were released in advance.
“I admit I have erased the written hours and adjusted them in order to submit my application near the end of 2018.”
She also wrote that during the course of her internship, she had been overworked with administrative tasks and she felt overwhelmed.
She said that this “has led to several breakdowns and severely affected my mental health.
“To be entirely honest, I wanted to finish my internship elsewhere, as working for (the complainant) not only in my intern year, but from July 2016, was absolutely suffocating and undoubtedly stressful… but I could not come around to giving notice.
“I successfully passed the written examination and the oral examination in one attempt, despite being approximately 250 hours less than needed for the oral examination.”
The intern’s general registration was suspended from mid-February 2019, and she was later charged with fraud, forgery, uttering a forged document and making a false entry in a record.
During this case her lawyer told the Brisbane Magistrates Court that the administrative tasks in question had included “errands for her including things such as picking up wedding portraits, going out and buying lunch, walking (the boss’) dog and taking her car in to get washed”.
She was also preparing medicines for up to 90 residential aged care patients every week while studying.
The relationship between the intern and preceptor had deteriorated after the internship began.
When the intern complained about her workload and the administrative tasks, the preceptor responded by cutting her hours to part-time, her lawyer said.
“She was a young person under extraordinary pressure who found herself making a regretful decision…
“In her mind she thought the only way out of a bad situation was to get registered and get another job,” her lawyer told the Court.
At the time, she was fined $2,000 and no conviction was recorded.
Now, the Tribunal has reprimanded her and cancelled her registration.
She is disqualified from applying for registration as a registered health practitioner for six months.
The Tribunal noted her “remorse and insight” and that “it appears that she was motivated to engage in criminal conduct by a desire to remove herself from a stressful working environment which was having a negative impact on her mental health, during a period when she was experiencing family and medical issues”.