MRCP (UK) vs PLAB - GMC Registration for overseas medical oncologists
May 02, 2022
GMC Registration can be a long and complex process, and with a few routes for medical oncologists to provide evidence of their skills and knowledge, it can be difficult for IMGs to decide the best route to take to register with the GMC.
For international doctors considering their route to the UK, there are two main pathways to consider: PLAB or the postgraduate route - in this case, MRCP (UK).
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 the two main pathways and briefly consider their benefits, summarised in the headings below:
Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB)
The most common route which tends to be popular among junior doctors is PLAB.
PLAB is a two-part exam with one written and one practical element, that assesses whether candidates are at least as capable as doctors 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.
MRCP (UK) - Postgraduate Qualification for Internal Medicine
The internal medicine postgraduate qualification is a more popular route for senior overseas doctors, and those looking to gain posts in the NHS which are reflective of their experience. Within medical oncology, this can be done by attaining Membership of the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Physicians is the professional body that regulates internal medicine within the UK, including the specialty of medical oncology.
Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) is the full qualification attained through the postgraduate exams for physicians. The exams assess a candidate’s knowledge of basic medical sciences, as well as clinical skills required for the diagnosis and management of disease. MRCP (UK) has three components, with two written and one practical element.
For complete guides on MRCP (UK), take a look at our IMG Resourceslibrary.
It is important to note that the MRCP (UK) exams are for medical oncologist, and you would not need to sit the FRCR (Oncology) exams, as these apply to clinical or radiation oncologists only.
PLAB vs MRCP (UK)
Both PLAB and MRCP (UK) 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 may be difficult for an overseas medical oncologist to obtain a more senior post without MRCP (UK), GMC-approved training, 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.
MRCP has three stages, and the Royal College strongly advises that candidates only sit the final exam after 24 months of practical experience.
These exams can take anywhere from 24-36 months to prepare from start to finish.
MRCP costs just under £2,500 for the three exams. The final exam, PACES, is an in-person exam, so travel to the UK must be factored into the overall cost.
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 MRCP (UK) PACES 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 the total cost of each exam can rise if re-sits 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 oncology or internal medicine 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., medical oncology.
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.
MRCP (UK) involves three more difficult examinations and takes more time to prepare for. However, for overseas doctors, attaining MRCP (UK) will allow you to jumpstart your career in the UK, as you don't need PLAB or Core Training.
The Royal College of Physicians’ exams will facilitate the application for more senior roles in medical oncology in the UK 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.
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, MRCP (UK), GMC registration and finding your dream job in the NHS - take a look at our IMG Resourceslibrary.
If you have any further questions on PLAB, MRCP (UK) or your route to the UK as an overseas oncologist, don't hesitate to get in touch with our oncology specialists here. We’d be more than happy to help you.
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