MRCPsych vs PLAB - GMC registration for overseas psychiatrists
May 02, 2022
GMC Registration can be a long and complex process. With a few options available for demonstration evidence of skills and knowledge, it can be difficult for IMGs to decide the best route to take to register with the GMC.
For international doctors planning their route to the UK, there are essentially two main pathways to consider – postgraduate qualifications (for psychiatrists, this is MRCPsych) or PLAB.
Whilst these are the most common routes to GMC registration, this is not an exahaustive list. There are other options such as Royal College sponsorship and GMC-approved qualifications or licensing exams, and you can read more about these here.
Here we provide a summary of both of the main pathways and briefly consider their benefits.
Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB)
The first and most common route we’ll be discussing, which tends to be popular among junior doctors, is PLAB.
PLAB is a two-part exam (one written and one practical element), which assesses whether a candidate is at least as capable as a doctor starting the second year of their Foundation Programme Training and can therefore work safely as an SHO in the NHS.
The GMC has a useful video summary of the PLAB exams which you can watch here, or for a more detailed overview, see our IMG Resourceslibrary.
MRCPsych - UK Postgraduate Qualification for Psychiatrists
The UK’s postgraduate qualifications are a more popular route for senior overseas doctors, and those looking to gain posts in the NHS which are reflective of their experience.
Within psychiatry, this can be done by attaining Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional body that regulates the specialism of psychiatry in the UK, and Membership of the College of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych) is the full qualification attained through these examinations. Take a look at our IMG Resourceslibrary for complete guides on MRCPsych to learn more.
PLAB vs MRCPsych
Both MRCPsych and PLAB are legitimate routes that demonstrate skills and knowledge and will allow you to register with the GMC and work in the UK. To decide which route is best for you, you’ll need to consider the benefits of each and how they align with your needs and priorities in moving to the UK.
Seniority of Positions in the NHS
It would be difficult for an overseas psychiatrist to obtain a more senior post in the NHS without either MRCPsych, a GMC-approved training programme, or extensive experience from a similar, English speaking healthcare system. PLAB alone will not give overseas doctors access to senior posts in the NHS.
To practice as a consultant in the UK, you must have gone through specialty training and will need a GMC-recognised postgraduate qualification to do so, whether a qualification from the country in which you completed your specialty training, or MRCPsych.
Only one type of evidence is required to demonstrate skills and knowledge, so once you pass MRCPsych, you would not need to additionally sit the PLAB exams. However, due to the more specialised nature of MRCPsych, psychiatrists may want to sit the MRCPsych exams at a later date, to allow them access to more senior roles and competitive salaries.
PLAB has two stages and can take anywhere between 3-9 months to prepare from start to finish.
MRCPsych has three stages, the last of which must be taken after at least 36 months of postgraduate experience in psychiatry and can take anywhere between 24-36 months to prepare from start to finish.
MRCPsych costs just under £2,000 for the three exams. All MRCPsych exams can now be sat online, so there is no longer the added expense of international travel. You can read about the changes to the exam format here.
PLAB costs £1,119, and both exams are sat in person. PLAB 1 can be taken in the UK or several overseas centres, which you can find here. PLAB 2 must be taken in the UK.
So, for PLAB 2, candidates will have to travel to the UK, meaning that the additional cost of visas, accommodation and flights must be factored in.
It’s important to note that these costs can rise if re-sits of the exams are necessary.
PLAB, as an exam which examines a doctor’s ability to work safely as a Senior House Officer (SHO), does not assess ability in psychiatry specifically. For this reason, PLAB tends to be a route for junior doctors who have not already chosen their field of specialisation in medicine, I.e., psychiatry.
PLAB allows doctors to enter the UK system much faster than other routes and for this reason alone, it is favoured by international doctors when considering their path to the UK.
MRCPsych involves three more difficult examinations and takes more time to prepare for. However, for overseas doctors, attaining MRCPsych will allow you to jumpstart your career in the UK, as you don't need PLAB or Core Training.
Additionally, MRCPsych will facilitate the application for more senior roles in UK psychiatry than PLAB.
Determine your priorities – your goals and timeline for relocating to the UK are important in deciding which route is best for, and this is different for everyone.
Plan well ahead – depending on the route you choose, you may be embarking on a long journey through these exams, so plan how you will fit them into your life and how best to prepare to maintain a good work-life balance at the same time.
Find a support network – once you know which exams you will sit, find a support network of others who are also preparing for the exam. A great way to do this is to join the IMG Psychiatrists Facebook group, an online psychiatry community of UK and NHS psychiatry aspirants and dedicated psychiatry recruiters. You’ll find advice, guidance and news and updates about all things psychiatry for IMGs. Join the conversation here.
Once you’ve decided which exams are best for you, it’s time to delve deeper into the exams and what they entail. For more useful blogs and articles on PLABor MRCPsychexams, registrations and qualifications to help you find your dream job in the NHS - take a look at our IMG Resourceslibrary.
Or if you have any questions on PLAB or postgraduate qualifications, please get in touch with our psychiatry recruiters here. They will be more than happy to help you.
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