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Pre-med students can't take MCAT in Quebec because of French language law

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Areeba Ahmed says she's always dreamed of becoming a surgeon but her road to the operating room has become a complicated one ever since Quebec's French language law came into effect.

The 19-year-old says because of Bill 96, she and hundreds of other aspiring doctors in the province are no longer allowed to take their Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) locally.

"I understand where they're coming from with Bill 96 but I feel encouraging the use of language is different than enforcing the use of the language," Ahmed tells CTV News. "Before, when Bill 96 wasn't applied, I was still studying here and I actually enjoyed immersing myself in the Quebec culture, learning the French language."

Though universities in Quebec do not require an MCAT score for enrolment in a medical program, Ahmed says she had hoped to send out applications to schools across Canada and the United States to improve her chances of getting an acceptance letter.

"Anglophones have really no other option than to look beyond Quebec, and now that I'm trying to look beyond Quebec, Quebec isn't offering me any services," she says, exasperated.

Ahmed explains she now has to take time off during the school year to travel to Ottawa, Ont. or Vermont, U.S., to take the exam -- something she tried and failed to do once already because all the slots were filled.

"All the test centres are booked. Why? Because obviously, residents of Ottawa and residents of Vermont, they're also looking at the MCAT dates," Ahmed said. "My next option is perhaps to take it next year in January. So, those dates would open in October and that's going to be my second try."

A screenshot of the AAMC's MCAT test dates showing that there are no centres in Quebec. (AAMC)

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Bill 96 has forced it to pull all its MCAT testing centres from the province.

"The AAMC administers the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in English only," explains Christina Spoehr, AAMC senior media relations specialist. "Due to the regulations outlined in Bill 96, which require that all business be conducted in the French language, we are unable to administer the MCAT exam in the province."

Ahmed says being forced out of the province to take an exam that is administered worldwide -- including, according to the AAMC, in countries like Germany, Japan, South Africa and Thailand -- doesn't make her want to stay in Quebec once she does become a doctor.

"Even though I'm an anglophone, I do speak both languages," Ahmed points out. "But I feel like the laws go so strict to the point that it feels suffocating. So, that's why when I was doing my undergrad, I was like, 'OK, now it's time to look for options beyond Quebec.'"

This comes as Quebec laments a huge shortage of medical professionals and an even larger number of citizens without a family doctor.

"We're damaging the entire population because they're not able to get the opportunities that they need," she said. "I wanted to work in Quebec but with these laws, I was like, 'OK, you know what? I don't really see many opportunities for myself here.' So, we're just limiting opportunities of doctors here, and that's just not going to go well in the long run."

In response to an inquiry by CTV News, the Quebec ministries of education and higher education (MEQ-MES) says it "does not have any specific information on whether these tests are required for admission to medical programs."

The MEQ-MES adds the issue has not been brought to its attention by any medical schools.

"The ministry has no information to this effect and is therefore unable to take a position," said Bryan St-Louis, media relations manager for the ministries.

Ahmed, who is currently studying occupational therapy at McGill University, says her dream is to work in oncology or cardiology. 

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