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MRCP(UK) vs PLAB: A Comprehensive Guide to Choose the Right Exam for Practicing Medicine in the UK


Doctor thinking about career options
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison

If you're an international medical graduate (IMG) planning to practise medicine in the UK, you need to pass a qualifying exam to register with the General Medical Council (GMC). The two most popular exams for IMGs are MRCP(UK) and PLAB. Both exams test your medical knowledge, skills, and language proficiency, but they have their own advantages and disadvantages. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the differences between MRCP(UK) and PLAB and guide you through the eligibility criteria and each step of the exams, helping you make an informed decision.


MRCP(UK)

The Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians (MRCP) is an exam designed for doctors who want to specialise in a particular field of medicine. The exam is divided into three parts: Part 1, Part 2 Written, and Part 2 Clinical. Here's what you can expect from each part:

Part 1: This is a written exam consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that assess your knowledge and understanding of basic medical sciences and clinical medicine. You need a minimum score of 540 to pass this exam, and it's valid for three years.

Part 2 Written: This is also a written exam consisting of 200 MCQs that assess your knowledge and understanding of medical sciences and clinical medicine in more detail. You must have passed Part 1 to be eligible for this exam, and you need a minimum score of 454. This exam is valid for three years.

Part 2 Clinical (PACES): This practical exam assesses your clinical skills, communication skills, and professionalism. The exam consists of 14 stations, and each station assesses a different skill or scenario. You need to have passed Part 2 Written to be eligible for this exam, and you need to pass at least 10 stations to pass the exam. This exam is valid for four years.


PLAB

The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test is a more general exam that covers all aspects of medicine. The exam is divided into two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Here's what you can expect from each part:

Part 1: This is a written exam consisting of 180 MCQs that assess your knowledge and understanding of medical sciences and clinical medicine. You need a minimum score of 170 to pass this exam, and it's valid for three years.

Part 2: This practical exam assesses your clinical skills, communication skills, and professionalism. The exam consists of 18 stations, and each station assesses a different skill or scenario. You need to have passed Part 1 to be eligible for this exam, and you need to pass at least 12 stations to pass the exam. This exam is valid for two years.


You could go on to practise in any field of medicine, viz. Psychiatry, Ophthalmology, Ob&Gy, ENT and so on after PLAB as it is a licensing exam to get you onto the GMC register as an MBBS graduate.


Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for MRCP(UK), you need to have a medical degree from a recognised institution and a minimum of 12 months of postgraduate clinical experience. Additionally, you need to pass the PLAB test before you can take MRCP(UK) Part 1 if you're sitting the exam in the UK. The PLAB test is a prerequisite for MRCP(UK) because it assesses your language proficiency and basic medical knowledge.


To be eligible for PLAB, you need to have a primary medical qualification that is accepted by the GMC, which includes most medical degrees from countries outside the UK and European Economic Area. You need to have completed a minimum of 12 months of postgraduate clinical experience, which can be obtained from any country. You also need to have passed the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, with a minimum score of 7.0 in each band, taken within the last two years. Instead of IELTS, you could also take the OET exam. The OET (Occupational English Test) is an English language proficiency test that assesses the language skills of healthcare professionals who want to work or study in an English-speaking environment. The test is specifically designed for healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, dentists, and other allied health professionals.


Key Differences between MRCP(UK) and PLAB

The main difference between MRCP(UK) vs PLAB is that MRCP(UK) is a specialised exam that is designed for doctors who want to specialise in a particular field of Internal Medicine, while PLAB is a more general exam that covers all aspects of medicine. MRCP(UK) is ideal for doctors who want to pursue a career in a specific speciality, such as cardiology or gastroenterology, while PLAB is more suitable for doctors who want a broad medical career, including general practice. In general, MRCP(UK) is generally taken up by doctors with sufficient experience and expertise in the field of Internal Medicine, as most of the IMGs would have already completed equivalent post-graduation in Internal Medicine (eg, MD, DNB or MSc).

Another key difference is the format of the exams. MRCP(UK) has three parts, including a written component and a practical component, while PLAB has two parts, both of which include a written and a practical component. MRCP(UK) also has a longer validity period for each part of the exam, making it a more time-consuming process. No points for guessing it is tougher and an in-depth exam as compared to PLAB.


Which Exam Should You Take?

The decision to choose between MRCP(UK) and PLAB depends on your career goals and interests. If you want to specialise in a particular field of medicine, then MRCP(UK) is the right choice for you. It will provide you with in-depth knowledge of your chosen speciality, and you'll have better chances of getting a training post in the UK. However, if you're interested in a more general medical career, then PLAB might be a better option. PLAB is also more accessible, as it does not require you to have a specific speciality in mind, and it has a shorter exam process. PLAB is by far the most common route if you're unsure of your specialisation as a fresh medical graduate seeking better employability opportunities in the UK.


Choosing between MRCP(UK) and PLAB can be difficult for IMGs who want to practise medicine in the UK. Both exams have their advantages and disadvantages, and it's important to consider your career goals and interests before making a decision. This comprehensive guide has provided you with the differences between MRCP(UK) and PLAB, their eligibility criteria, and what to expect in each step of the exams. Make sure to do your research, seek advice from career counsellors or experienced doctors who have gone through the process, and choose the exam that suits your needs best.


Note: The PLAB exam is being replaced with the UKMLA from 2024 onwards.

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