Jeffrey Agate, director of student support services. He said admission testing is part of highly competitive programs. Photo credit: Katrina Deschenes

Demiana Bishara checked her phone just after noon Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. An incoming text from her friend read: “I’m heading to Ottawa for the day.”

“I’d love to come, my mom will be so surprised,” replied Bishara, an Ottawa native.

The former pre-health student at Algonquin’s Woodroffe campus had moved to Kingston, Ont. for new studies at St. Lawrence College and was excited to see her mom after a month apart. She happily agreed to a ride home from Kingston that day.

About an hour into the drive, the driver became distracted by his radio during a merging point on Highway 401, resulting in a horrific accident.

“When he screamed ‘Shit,’ I didn’t even have time to look up fully before we hit something. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I thought I was going to die, and I did the sign of the cross and asked God not to let me die. It was a three-car accident. We hit a car that hit another car, and a man in the middle died,” recalled Bishara.

After she survived the deadly accident, Bishara spent four months recovering. She was healing from a spinal fracture, a ruptured right eye, a right lung injury and a broken nose.

During her recovery, Bishara decided she wanted to go back to her studies, preferably at Algonquin.

Unfortunately, her journey back to school was not easy.

Bishara had scored a 3.8 overall GPA at Algonquin previously when she graduated from the pre-health program. This granted her exemption from an admissions test used to select applicants for nursing programs.

Because of her previous admissions test exemption, she assumed the re-application process would be simple. But she faced a harsh reality quickly.

Since she was no longer a current pre-health student her exemption was not valid. Bishara was told she was now expected to write the admissions test, the AC-HPAT, with only 20 days to prepare.

“Of course, I threw out all my old notes. I had to teach myself enough using Khan Academy but there’s only so much you can remember,” Bishara said.

Bishara, concerned that her score on the test would not be an accurate representation of her skills, frantically sent emails to nursing program executives at Algonquin with the subject “Help!”

Bishara feared the loss of everything she worked hard for.

She reached out via email to the chair of Algonquin’s nursing studies. In response, she was told via email, “Our department is not involved in the admissions process. The admissions office determines student placement and we receive notice of successful candidates only.”

Bishara had also reached out to more than three other individuals at Algonquin who all redirected her.

“They made me feel like the accident ruined my life,” she said. “I hoped someone in a position of power would show a little grace.”

Algonquin pre-health program coordinator Myriam Thanasee was a source of support for Bishara. Thanasee had encouraged her in 2018 to make the move to Kingston to advance her studies at St. Lawrence.

“She told me, ‘Spread your wings, take a leap of faith’,” said Bishara.

Thanasee explained that Bishara’s exemption was granted due to an articulation agreement with Algonquin’s pre-health program. This agreement allows students who graduate with a GPA of 3.0 or higher exemption from the AC – HPAT, but it only applies to current pre-health students.

When asked why previous grads couldn’t be considered, Thanasee questioned whether that would be manageable.

“It would be a challenge,” said Thanasee. “How far would you go back into grads? Opening the offer to grads from 10 years ago would be unmanageable.”

Admissions standards at the college vary from program to program, however.

Testing is part of highly competitive programs, said Jeffrey Agate, the director of student support services.

Each school makes its own decisions about admissions testing. Algonquin decided to develop one in 2014, after several health programs at the college voiced their need for a better way to rank applicants.

Agate thinks it is good that schools can opt out of testing.

“Some students can’t meet certain schools’ requirements but would make excellent candidates for that profession,” he said.

Agate said students with “functional limitations” are eligible to apply for accommodations through the Centre for Accessible Learning. Upon review, they may receive extended time to write, or a separate quiet room to write in. Each accommodation request is “dependent on the nature of the case,” said Agate.

Unaware of this, Bishara wrote the Algonquin test unassisted. She passed and was granted acceptance into the same program in Kingston she was forced to drop from last September, as a result of the crash.

“It’s impressive that she overcame this traumatic experience, it’s very commendable,” said Thanasee.

There were times during the challenge when Bishara thought about giving up, but she knew being a nurse was something she really wanted.

“I am shocked and very happy,” said Bishara. “I’m very thankful that I got accepted but it shouldn’t have been this hard.”