FRCPath in Medical Microbiology – an overview

  • November 05, 2021

Overseas Microbiologists wanting to secure a job in the UK via the postgraduate qualificaiton route will need to attain Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists or FRCPath in Medical Microbiology, a sub-specialty exam of FRCPath.

International Medical Graduates (IMGs) from any country in the world can sit the sub-specialty FRCPath in Medical Microbiology examinations, provided certain eligibility criteria are met. These are summarised below along with a broad look at the following topics:

What is FRCPath in Medical Microbiology? 

Set against the Medical Microbiology incorporating CIT curriculum, the examinations act as an early assessment of your understanding of the scientific basis of medical microbiology, virology and infectious diseases. The exams recognise microbiologists close to the end of their training who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge and technique for independent practice. In other words, completion of the full set of exams (Part 1 & 2) demonstrates your ability to work at consultant level.

The examinations are split into two parts:

  • Part 1 – single 3-hour paper with Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) 
  • Part 2 – four paper examination sat over two days

Eligibility for overseas doctors:

Below we outline the eligibility for overseas doctors looking to sit both FRCPath Microbiology exams. For international candidates, the eligibility criteria for FRCPath specialty examinations can be a little confusing when looking online so IMG Connect spoke to the Royal College directly to clarify this.

Time spent in microbiology training is stated as a requirement of eligibilty and the Royal College do consider equivalents to NHS training programmes though there is no list of countries with accepted or unaccepted training programmes. The royal college advises you should speak to your Educational Supervisor or Sponsor (if you have one) who can advise you if you are ready or eligible to sit the Examinations if you are unsure. Remember, there are many overseas doctors applying for all parts of the FRCPath exams so don’t be put off applying!

Top Tip: If you have the required months training in a recognised programme in your country for Histopathology specifically, the chances are you will be eligible.

Eligibility for Part 1: You are required to have trained in a recognised training programme in microbiology for a period of no less than 12 months. 

Eligibility for Part 2: You must have passed the Part 1 examination and have had at least 3 years microbiology training in a recognised training programme in your country. 

FRCPath Part 1 in Microbiology - structure and format:

The exam focuses in particular on the scientific basis of virology, microbiology and infection. The exam is set against both the medical microbiology and virology curriculum. It is a single three-hour objective MCQ examination, with computerised marking sat over one one day. Questions are in two formats:

  • One-best answer
  • Extended-matching-question

FRCPath Part 2 in Microbiology - structure and format:

Part 2 consists of four paper examinations sat over two days. The exam will be ‘closed book’ (i.e. NO textbooks, manuals, other written material or equipment
belonging to candidates may be used). Only reference material provided by the examiners may be used. These are as follows: 

Paper 1 – two parts, 2.5 hours in total:

  • One essay from a choice of two questions, usually including laboratory management issues, antimicrobial stewardship, infection prevention or a combinatino of all.
  • One SAQ paper focused on clinical scenarios, infection prevention, laboratory practice and safety.
  • The essay is allocated one third of available marks for this paper. A closed marking scheme is used for the essay question.

Top Tip: A brief vignette with interpretation of clinical, laboratory or infection control data is a common format for SAQs.

Paper 2 - two parts, 2.5 hours in total:

  • Critical appraisal of a journal article 
  • SAQ paper with similar content as Paper 1
  • The journal article is allocated one third of available marks for this paper 

Paper 3 – one part in laboratory scenarios, 3 hours in total

  • Complex clinical and laboratory scenarios in microbiology and infection prevention.

Top Tip: Questions cover similar content to Paper 1&2 SAQs though the question format is longer, allowing for progression within each scenario to reflect evolving information encountered in clinical practice. Clinical and laboratory data and images may be presented, however there will be no practical manipulation of laboratory material.

Paper 4 – one part, 3 hours in total

  • Objective Structured Pathology Examination (OSPE) format. 

Comprises of 15 stations, each of 9 minutes duration with variable rest stations.The exam allows for broad sampling of the curriculum and involves two face-to-face stations with a pair of examiners. The OSPE facilitates assessment of knowledge, application of knowledge, laboratory skills, and communication in scenarios encountered by microbiologists in clinical practice. 

Pass criteria for FRCPath Microbiology Part 2 Exams:

In order to achieve an overall pass, you must achieve a pass in both combined scores for: 

  • Papers 1+ 2 
  • Papers 3 + 4

Failure of either of the two components will result in an overall fail. If you fail either of these two components, an overall fail result will be obtained and the entire examination will need to be taken at a future date. In other words, you cannot carry forward a pass in any part of the exam into subsequent sittings.

Where can I take the exams and how much will they cost me?

FRCPath in Medical Microbiology - Part 1:

In Spring 2021, the Part 1 examination will be offered using online delivery to candidates. This means you can take the exam remotely and will not need to travel overseas to sit the exam, or attend an examination centre. The College will deliver the written components of these examinations through a company called TestReach, the Oral components (including oral OSPE stations) will be delivered using a video-conferencing platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams and for the written examinations, candidates will be given the opportunity to trial the TestReach system to familiarise themselves with it ahead of the examination. You can read more about the new, remote examination process further here on our website. Previously, the Part 1 examination was sat in multiple overseas centres and once the pandemic is under better control globally, it is highly anticipated the Royal College will return to previous set-ups.

The FRCPath Part 1 exam costs £622. You can see how the Royal College breaks down the cost here on their website.

FRCPath in Medical Microbiology - Part 2:

Currently it can only be sat in the UK. Availability of overseas Part 2 examination centres will be indicated on the website and candidates should contact the Examinations Department to express their interest in taking the examination in the available centre. In 2021 no overseas Part 2 examinations will take place in the Spring session, and it is highly unlikely an overseas centre will be available for Microbiology in 2021. 

The FRCPath Part 2 exam costs £1,308. You can see how the Royal College breaks down the cost here on their website.

How do I apply?

Applications must be made via the Royal College of Pathologists website, with applications only available once an application window is opened by the Royal College.

How to prepare and what resources are available?

With lots of resources available online, we have discussed with consultants the best place to start looking for materials relating to the exams. Most recommended starting with the Royal College, who have created useful resources to help you to prepare for the exams. 

Below we have included resources available through the Royal College and a few other resources recommend by doctors that have passed.

Curriculum: The content of the exam is set against the Curriculum for Specialty Training in Medical Microbiology. This curriculum incorporates the Combined Infection Training developed in conjunction with the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board. Part A is set against both the medical microbiology and virology curriculum.

TOP TIP: We recommend getting to know the curriculum as early as possible and using it as a road map for your study plan. This advice comes directly from one of the RCPath examiners/ 

Regulations and Guidelines: Before applying for FRCPath examinations, the Royal College recommends you read both the General & Specialty Specific regulations and guidelines:

Past papers: Test your knowledge using example questions from the current exam syllabus provided by the Royal College:

On-the-day Exam Advice:

Part 2 – food and drink: With multiple exams taking place for Part 2 in one day bring supplies! It will be a long day and there may not be access to food.

Hiring a microscope: For Part 2 you will be required to sit examinations in the UK and will require a microscope. The examination centres will not provide equipment for any applicants so you will need to hire a microscope in advance.

There are a few companies easily accessible through a web search, find a microscope and book well in advance of the exam. You can arrange for the company to drop off and pick up the microscope from the exam centre, don’t worry!

Top Tip: At IMG Connect we recommend speaking to anyone you know who has sat and passed the exam and get their personal hints and tips. We would also be happy to help you arrange anything you need for the exam day. 

I passed the FRCPath Medical Microbiology exam! What next?

First of all, congratulations! After you have passed all parts of FRCPath in Medical Microbiology you can apply for full registration with a license to practice. Once the GMC have approved your application, you can work as a doctor in the UK. 

Searching for Medical Microbiology & Virology jobs in the NHS could not be easier

If you want to find out more about the many different Microbiology roles available within the NHS - it only takes a minute to register with IMG Connect and receive expert advice and representation. We have helped many overseas Medical Mircobiologists secure consultant, specialty doctor, registrar, clinical fellow and staff grade NHS jobs, whilst offering expert guidance to many more IMGs on NHS doctor pay, FRCPath exams and English language testing. We’d be happy to help you!


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