FRCPath vs PLAB - GMC registration for overseas pathologists

  • May 02, 2022

GMC Registration is a complex process. For histopathologists who’ve qualified outside the EEA region there are two main pathways to consider – FRCPath and 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 will give a summary of both of the main routes and briefly consider their benefits. 

Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB) 

The first and most popular route with most junior doctors is PLAB

PLAB is a two-part exam (one written one practical), and which assesses whether you are 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 have created a video summary of the PLAB exams which you can watch hereor for a more detailed overview, see our IMG Resources library

FRCPath - UK Postgraduate Qualification 

The UK postgraduate qualification for histopathology – FRCPath Histopathology - is the most popular and recommended route for overseas doctors who have completed a training or residency programme, and will be looking for senior pathology positions in the NHS.  

By completing both parts of the FRCPath you are awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists. The Royal College of Pathologists is the professional body that regulates the pathology specialties in the UK. Take a look at our IMG Resources library for complete guides on FRCPath for histopathology to learn more. 

PLAB vs FRCPath 

Both are legitimate routes 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 priorities and needs in moving to the UK. 


Seniority of Positions in the NHS 

Histopathology is a consultant led specialty in the UK, and it would be difficult for an overseas pathologist to obtain a more senior post without FRCPath, or extensive experience from a similar, English speaking healthcare system. PLAB alone will not give overseas doctors access to senior posts in the NHS.  


PLAB has two stages and can take anywhere between 3-9 months to prepare from start to finish. 

FRCPath has two stages and can take anywhere between 18-30 months to prepare from start to finish.  


FRCPath costs just under £1,930 and whilst the Part 2 exam is an in-person exam, the Part 1 exam can be taken online. You can read about the changes to the FRCPath 1 delivery 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.  

For both FRCPath Part 2 and 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 assesses a doctor’s ability to work safely in the UK, does not demonstrate ability in histopathology specifically. For this reason, PLAB tends to be a route for junior doctors who have not already chosen their field of specialisation in medicine. 

Additionally, PLAB can facilitate GMC registration much faster than other routes – so if you feel you can attain an offer of employment in the UK with your overseas experience only – but GMC registration is the one thing standing in your way – PLAB may be a good option for you.  

FRCPath involves two more difficult examinations and takes more time to prepare for. Attaining FRCPath in Histopathology will allow you to jumpstart your career in the UK, you’ll most likely be able to take a consultant role. You would not need PLAB or Core Training in addition to FRCPath.  

Additionally, histopathology in the UK is also a consultant-led specialism, and FRCPath demonstrates competency to practice unsupervised as a consultant.  

#IMG Tips 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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 IMG Histopathologists, an online pathology community of UK and NHS histopathology aspirants and dedicated histopathology recruiters. You’ll find advice, guidance and news and updates about all things histopathology for IMGs. Join the conversation here

Getting started 

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 PLAB or FRCPath exams, registrations and qualifications to help you find your dream job in the NHS - take a look at our IMG Resources library.  

Or if you have any questions on PLAB or Postgraduate qualifications, feel free to get in touch with our histopathology consultants here.

For regular news and updates, follow IMG Connect on social media using the links below.



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