PLAB vs MRCP: What do you need to know

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The first big step - once it's taken, the road to success will slowly materialise. The two most common paths are PLAB and MRCP.
PLAB mrcp comparison

This is by far one of the most common questions asked – “Should I take PLAB vs MRCP/MRCS?” Yes, both PLAB and MRCP/MRCS will grant you the same GMC registration as a medical practitioner in the UK but fundamentally the exams are very different and they pose very different impact in your medical career. The information will be laid out in front of you, but at the end of the day- you’re the master of your fate, you’re the captain of your soul.

PLAB

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The full form of PLAB is Professional Linguistic and Assessments Board.

It is a licensing examination to assess whether a doctor is eligible to obtain GMC Registration or not. It’s NOT a degree, or a certification by itself. It only makes you eligible to apply for GMC registration.

Why do I need GMC registration?

In the UK, to practice as a doctor, GMC registration is a MUST. Life as doctor in the UK pretty much revolves around the General Medical Council (GMC). They maintain their register of medical practitioners, general practitioners, and specialists. In order to practice at that level, you need to be registered with GMC. To make things clear, GMC will NOT provide you with any degree. That’s the job of the Royal Colleges’ and other training bodies’ function. But, GMC will just recognize your degree.

When in my career can I take the PLAB exam?

The earlier, the better. But it may not be possible for everyone. That being said, you can take PLAB anytime in your career, so long as you have received your primary medical qualification.

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PLAB Exam Structure

The exam has two parts-

  1. PLAB 1
  2. PLAB 2

PLAB 1 is an MCQ exam

PLAB 1 is a 3 hour 180 MCQ (single best answer) exam which can be taken right after you obtain your primary medical qualification. It can be taken in many places around the world. They run March and November exams all over the world and also in the UK, where they have two extra exam dates usually in June and September.

But IELTS/OET is a pre-requisite. You will have to obtain 7.5 overall (with 7.0 in each module) in IELTS and “B” in OET to be able to sit for PLAB 1. To see how you can plan your IELTS and PLAB 1, please look here. Also you can use Occupational English Test (OET) to prove your english language proficiency. You will need grade B in all the sub-tests of the OET. Read further here.

PLAB 2 is an OSCE exam

PLAB 2, on the other hand, is a practical assessment and takes the form of an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). Usually there are 18 stations spanning 8 minutes each, excluding at least 2 rest stations. It happens year round and ONLY takes place in Manchester, UK.

The only requirement to sit for PLAB 2 is passing PLAB 1. Also, you will have to take PLAB 2 within 2 years of passing PLAB 1.

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PLAB Exam Fees and other associated costs

IELTS : ~£160 (IELTS) OR OET: ~£332
PLAB 1 : £239
PLAB 2 : £875

Please read how to plan funding for your PLAB journey for detailed breakdown of all the associated costs.

Where will I stand after passing PLAB?

Your career as a doctor in the UK starts with having GMC Registration as a medical practitioner. PLAB gets you that!

Unlike MRCP or any other membership exams like MRCS (Surgery). MRCOG (OBGYN), MRCPCH (Padiatrics), PLAB is NOT a post-graduate qualification. Other than getting you eligible to apply for GMC registration, PLAB doesn’t play any other role in your ongoing medical career.

To know about the path after passing PLAB, please follow the flow diagram in Postgraduation Pathways in the UK.

Planning your PLAB journey

Planning your PLAB journey

MRCP

MRCP stands for Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom [MRCP(UK)]

It is a postgraduate medical diploma in the United Kingdom (UK). The examinations are run by the Federation of the Medical Royal Colleges – the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Examinations are held throughout the UK and in overseas centres.

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Aim of The Exam

The exam incorporates both examinations of the candidate’s knowledge of basic medical sciences as well as testing the clinical skills required for the diagnosis and management of a disease. Obtaining the “MRCP(UK)” is a prerequisite to anyone wishing to go on to a specialist training post as a Physician in the United Kingdom.

There is a misconception about MRCP that if you have the diploma you don’t need to have training. That is wrong. Please have a look at the diagram below to have an understanding where the membership exams and training in the UK are placed.

PLAB vs MRCP
Now the core training is for 2 or 3 years, which is called “Internal Medicine Training”

When do I take MRCP?

From the diagram above it should be quite evident that you need to be a ‘physician in training’ to complete all the parts of the exam. As discussed in detail below, the MRCP part 1 can be taken just after your completion of the internship, but to take the other parts, especially PACES, it is advised that you have at least 2 years’ clinical experience working in hospitals following the award of your primary medical qualification.

taking MRCP

According to the diagram above you can see at what stage you are expected to complete parts / full MRCP during your training in the UK. Now if you want to complete the Full MRCP (UK) before coming to the UK, you can still do that. That will be a jumpstart for your future training in the UK, not a substitute.

MRCP is an approved post-graduate qualification by the GMC, so you will just have to get required scores in IELTS/OET to be fully registered with GMC and start working as a doctor in the UK. No PLAB is needed.

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MRCP Exam Structure

The MRCP (UK) examination is divided into three parts:

  1. MRCP(UK) Part 1
  2. MRCP(UK) Part 2 Written
  3. MRCP(UK) Part 2 Clinical (PACES).

MRCP Part 1

MRCP Part 1 is the entry-level examination accessible to doctors with a minimum of 12 months’ postgraduate experience in medical employment. It is a one-day examination with two three-hour papers containing total of 200 multiple-choice (best of five) questions with no images and to be appeared sat in an examination hall. The exam is held in the UK and in certain overseas centres, three times a year– January, May, and September. There is an application period for those exam dates, typically 11 days in October for January, February for May, and June for September exams.

MRCP Part 2 Written

MRCP Part 2 Written can be taken by physicians in training who have passed the MRCP(UK) Part 1 Examination. It is a one-day examination (from 2018 onwards) with two three-hour papers containing a total of 200 multiple-choice (best of five) questions with or without images and to appear in an examination hall. The exam is held in the UK and in certain overseas centres, three times a year– March, June, and October. There is an application period for those exam dates, typically 11 days in January for March, April for June, and August for October exams.

MRCP Part 2 Clinical (PACES)

mrcp paces 2020 carousel

MRCP Part 2 Clinical Examination (Practical Assessment of Clinical Examination Skills – PACES) is designed to test the clinical knowledge and skills of trainee doctors who hope to enter higher specialist training (ST3). Trainees must have passed the MRCP Part 1 examination within the last 7 years before taking PACES. It is advised that you have at least 2 years’ clinical experience working in hospitals following completion of your primary medical qualification. It is a half-day examination takes place in a clinical setting (hospital or clinical skills centre), assesses seven core skills in five stations with eight patient encounters (see the below carousel diagram).

Unlike the other parts, applying for PACES is not that cut and dry. They have a specific application period which varies from centre to center and depends on the application you make. It also can take place in certain overseas centres, as well as in the UK.

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Check official website for updates regarding PACES.

Exam Fees and other associated costs

  UK International
MRCP(UK) Part 1 £419  £594
MRCP(UK) Part 2 Written £419  £594
MRCP(UK) Part 2 Clinical (PACES) £657 £1202*
IELTS/OET (For GMC registration) ~£160(IELTS)  ~£332 (OET) ~£160(IELTS)  ~£332 (OET)

*cost for PACES international may vary based on location

Where will I stand after passing MRCP(UK)?

As I have mentioned earlier, MRCP is a prerequisite to get into higher specialty training in the UK. You will HAVE to pass MRCP one way or another- before you can get into / apply for higher specialty training. So, having an MRCP before even coming to the UK, gives you a head start in the long run of training.

Please note that, MRCP is NOT required to join Internal Medicine Training (IMT) which is the core level training that you have to complete (or achieve equivalent competence) before you embark on higher specialty training in any particular specialty. This transition from IMT to a Higher Specialty Training requires MRCP to be completed.

Also, MRCP is regarded as an approved post-graduate qualification by the GMC. So, you will obtain GMC full registration with a license to practice after completing the prerequisites like IELTS.

The route to become a GP in the UK is completely separate. You need to take MRCGP (UK) while in GP training. Find more about GP training here, Specialty & GP Training in the UK.

Planning your MRCP(UK) Pathway

The timeline below shows what comes after what if you want to take MRCP to be a registered doctor in the UK.

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Planning MRCp pathway

Can I join Speciality Training after completing MRCP MRCS?

Yes, you can, if you fulfill the required entry criteria. All about that it discussed in detail in the article- Specialty Training or NHS job after MRCP MRCS.

How to decide between PLAB vs MRCP/MRCS?

That is a valid concern of many. Let’s look at the comparison:

PLAB vs MRCP MRCS
How long has it been since you graduated from medical school?

If you are a fresh graduate, and your long term goal is to come to the UK quickly and get training completed, then it makes sense to take PLAB for GMC registration.

Which exam is easier, less expensive, and will take less time?

PLAB.

Will MRCP/MRCS give me an advantage over someone who has taken PLAB?

Yes. On the career progression ladder, completing an MRCP/MRCS puts you forward and many non-training jobs will have that as a desirable criteria. But, this advantage is minimal in terms of weight because non-training jobs look more into your interview performance and your clinical experience. A PG qualification can’t cover if your application (CV) doesn’t look appealing (Non-training jobs DOES not have any points system for application).

Can I join higher specialty training in the UK directly after MRCP/MRCS?

No. MRCP/MRCS is an essential criteria for getting into higher specialty training in the UK, but this is NOT THE ONLY criteria. Among other important ones, getting your core competencies signed off is the crucial one. And you can only do that by doing relevant non-training job in the UK prior to applying for your desired training. For example, you have completed MRCS and got GMC registration and wish to train in Urology. Before you can apply for that, you have to get your core surgical competencies signed off. And that can be achieved by working in a surgical specialty as a non-training doctor under supervision of a consultant (who will sign that certificate). For guidance take our free PG Training Pathway in the UK course here.

Can I join core training directly after taking MRCP/MRCS?

No. You need to have your Certificate of eligibility to enter specialty training (CREST) signed off before you can apply for core level training. Please see our comprehensive FREE course on CREST & Portfolio for IMGs for further guidance.

I am a fresh graduate but I want to take MRCP. Can I take it? Or I’m an “old” (>5 years) graduate. Can I take PLAB?

Yes and Yes. Both PLAB and MRCP/MRCS gets you the same GMC registration. Just in your career ladder a PG qualification like MRCP/MRCS has a mark, PLAB doesn’t.

Summary

  • PLAB is NOT a PG qualification, MRCP is.
  • MRCP gets you the same GMC registration as a medical practioner as PLAB does.
  • Completed MRCP means you have attained the qualification necessary to become a registrar in the UK, provided you have enough clinical experience (but taking up a registrar level job as your very first job is not recommended).
  • MRCP is one of the eligible criteria to apply for higher specialty training in medical specialties.
  • MRCP costs more, takes more time, is harder of an exam than PLAB.
  • Even if you get GMC registered with PLAB, in order to pursue your career in medicine you will have to pass MRCP.

All the information regrading PLAB and MRCP is laid out here. Things are any different for all other membership exams like MRCS, MRCOG, MRCPCH – you will have to COMPLETE the exam is order to get GMC registration using that, so the decision is yours.

Good Luck!

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About us

About Ibreez and Ibrahim

Hey there!

Dr Ibreez and Dr Ibrahim are two International Medical Graduates who are currently working as internal medicine trainees in the NHS. They love to travel, take photos and write about all things related to IMGs in the UK!

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