A Histopathologist's route to the UK

  • November 05, 2021

There are several routes an overseas histopathologist can take to GMC registration & practicing anatomic pathology in the NHS.

All pathologists looking to secure a job in the NHS, whether you are from inside or outside of Europe, will need to satisfy certain criteria to fully register with the General Medical Council before they can practice in the NHS. As a histopathologist, the criteria you need to meet depends on where you trained, and what qualifications you hold. This article is designed to give you a snapshot of the steps you need to take to start your journey to the UK, no matter where in the world you live. We’ll be covering the following: 

Evidence of knowledge and skills for EEA histopathologists

For histopathologists who trained in an EEA country (all countries inside the EU, including Lichtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland & Norway), there are a number of different options potentially available to you. 

Depending on the country and year you completed your residency or basic medical training, the GMC may automatically recognise your qualifications and grant you either General Registration, or Specialist Registration in the UK. To find out if your country’s qualifications will allow you to register for either general or specialist registration, check the relevant GMC page here

Basic Medical Training: If you have met the basic medical training requirements, this would mean that you would not need to demonstrate your medical knowledge and skills to work as a doctor in the UK and would not need to complete a UK- recognised postgraduate qualification or PLAB to register with a license to practice. You would be granted full registration in this case, but not Specialist Registration.  

Specialist Training / Residency: If you have met the criteria listed for your country then you once you completed your GMC application process you would be granted Specialist Registration in your Specialty and can be appointed as a substantive or permanent consultant in the NHS. So as a pathologist, if you hold a Relevent European Specialist qualification then you would be on the specialist register for histopathology, and can be appointed as a substantive histopathologist in the NHS.

So, the main hurdle that you will face is demonstrating that your English skills are of a high enough standard to practice safely as a doctor in the UK & NHS. 

As a European histopathologist, this is in most cases the easiest route to becoming GMC-registered and being able to practice in the UK. 

If you do not meet the GMC requirements for your training to be approved for full or specialist registration, other routes you may consider to GMC registration include PLAB or (via the postgraduate route) the Royal College exams for Histopathology (FRCPath). You can find out more about these alternative routes here

Evidence of knowledge and skills for non-EEA histopathologists 

If you qualified as a histopathologist outside the EEA, then you will have to demonstrate that both your medical knowledge and skills AND English Language capabilities meet the level required to practice safely in the UK.  

Histopathologists who've trained from outside the UK and EEA must demonstrate to the GMC they have sufficient knowledge & skills to practice safely in the UK. For histopathologists this can be done through one of three main routes: 

Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB)

The PLAB exam is a two-part exam that assesses a doctor’s ability to work safely as an SHO in the NHS, as such it does not demonstrate ability in pathology specifically. For this reason, PLAB tends to be a route for junior doctors who have not already chosen their field of specialisation in medicine. That said, for some senior doctors PLAB can be an attractive option, offering a quicker route to the UK, whilst still securing competitive salaries. If taking this option, pathologists can then take up training or a more senior post once they have established themselves in the NHS. Take a look through our comprehensive guides on PLAB.

Fellowship of Royal College of Pathologists

Royal College Qualification of FRCPath: Attaining a Royal College qualification is a preferred path for doctors who have already chosen their field of specialism i.e. pathology. For senior pathologists taking this route, they will gain access to more senior, well-paid jobs in the specialism of their choice. The Royal College of Pathologists is the Professional Body that regulates the specialism of Pathology in the UK, and Membership of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) is the full qualification attainable by examination. For overseas doctors, attaining FRCPath will satisfy the knowledge & skill criteria for GMC registration and facilitate application for more senior roles in UK Pathology. Take a look at our complete guides on Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists as per your sub-specialty to understand more.

GMC recognised or equivalent qualifications

Some overseas qualifications and licensing exams are recognised by the GMC and accepted for registration purposes. This is to say these qualifications or licensing exams are considered as meeting the same standards as the Royal College qualifications.  

To find out if your qualification is accepted by the GMC, take a look at our blog: Overseas accepted postgraduate qualifications.

English Language Testing 

Both EEA and non-EEA histopathologists, regardless of experience, and country of origin, must demonstrate that they have a sufficient grasp and competence of the English language. This can be done by passing either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Occupational English Test (OET). Detailed guides to these tests can be found below: 

Experience in English-speaking countries 

For doctors who have at least two years of their most current experience in an English-speaking country, you can use a reference from your current employer or employers over these two or more years to demonstrate competence of the English language. This would exempt you from sitting an English language exam. 

Certificate of Good Standing 

All doctors registering with the GMC must provide a certificate of good standing from each medical regulatory authority they’ve been registered or licensed with in the last five years.  

The medical regulatory authority may send you a certificate of past good standing if you're not currently registered or licensed with them. You can find out which medical regulatory authority to contact via the GMC website here

Please note that each certificate is only valid for three months from the date it's signed and must be valid when we approve your application. 

If there's no medical regulatory authority in the country to issue a certificate, the GMC will give you further advice once your application has been assessed. 

GMC Registration 

Once you’ve completed your English language exam, you can now apply for full GMC registration with a license to practice. For registration, you must provide evidence of: 

English language capabilities - either your IELTS, OET or an approved reference from your current employer (if you have been working in an English-speaking country for the last two years). 


Certificate of good standing – the certificate from your medical regulatory authority which demonstrates good standing.  


(EEA pathologists) Sufficient skill and knowledge – as an EEA pathologist, this would either be your recognised EEA qualification. 


(Non-EEA pathologists) Sufficient skill and knowledge – as a non-EEA pathologist, this would either be PLAB, FRCPath or a GMC-approved qualification. 

To understand the registration process more fully, read our blog on GMC registration for overseas doctors here


If you or your family are from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and started living in the UK by 31 December 2020, you may be able to apply to the free EU Settlement Scheme. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a visa from the UK Home Office

A Tier 2 visa is the document given to a skilled worker by the UK Home Office following a job offer from a UK employer with a valid Tier 2 Sponsorship License. The list of valid Tier 2 Sponsors can be found here

Understand Tier 2 visas and Certificates of Sponsorship in depth by taking a look at our article: Tier 2 Visa - how do I apply and what's the process?

Wondering whether you can relocate with your family? Take a look at our blog on the Tier 2 dependent visa below: Tier 2 Dependent visa - Can I bring my family with me to the UK?

For pathologists looking to come to the UK to work in the NHS, GMC registration and specialist registration is a crucial part of the process. Therefore, it’s important to put together a good application to present to the GMC, and IMG Connect are here to help with this. Whether it’s deciding the best options for demonstrating your skills and knowledge in histopathology, or sourcing the best English Language courses and resources, take advantage of the benefits of having a pathology recruitment specialist working with you and proving you with the best guidance and support to fit your career needs. 

For regular news and updates on the Royal College and all things pathology, follow IMG Connect on social media using the links below: 



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