MRCEM vs PLAB - GMC Registration for Emergency Medicine IMGs
GMC Registration can be a long and complex process. With several options available for overseas doctors to demonstrate evidence of their skills and knowledge, it might be difficult to decide the best route to take to register with the GMC.
For international doctors planning their route to the UK, the two most common and popular routes by far are the UK postgraduate qualifications (MRCEM for emergency medicine physicians) or PLAB. Here we provide a summary of both pathways and briefly consider their benefits to help you make the best choice in your journey to the UK as an IMG.
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GMC Registration for Overseas Doctors
Registering with the GMC is a multi-stage process, including key timings actions and documents. To receive full registration, international doctors must provide evidence of:
What is often the most long and challenging part of the process is providing sufficient evidence of skills and knowledge, however, you can check whether you have a GMC-accepted postgraduate qualification here.
There are 5 ways in which an overseas doctor can demonstrate their skills and knowledge:
- Acceptable Postgraduate Qualification / Licensing Examination
- Relevant European Qualification
- Sponsorship / MTI
- CESR / CESR-CP / CEGPR
Please note that only one type of evidence is required to demonstrate skills and knowledge for GMC registration.
Of these routes, the most accessible are PLAB and the Acceptable Postgraduate Qualification because they are two of the only routes that do not depend on the country you’ve trained in – the UK postgraduate exams and PLAB can be sat by doctors.
For a detailed breakdown of all the routes available to IMGs, see our blog here.
PLAB - Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board
The first and most common route we’ll be discussing, which is particularly 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 (FY2 or F2) and can therefore work safely as an SHO (Senior House Officer) in the NHS.
The GMC has produced a useful video summary of the PLAB exams which you can watch here, or for a more detailed overview, see our IMG Resources library.
MRCEM - UK Postgraduate Qualification for Emergency Medicine
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.
For emergency medicine, this can be done by attaining Membership of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) is the professional body that regulates the specialism of emergency medicine in the UK, and Membership of the College of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (MRCEM) is the full qualification attained through these examinations.
Take a look at our IMG Resources library for complete guides on MRCEM to learn more.
You can also read our interview with Dr Behzad Rashid to learn about the experience of an IMG Emergency Medicine resident going through MRCEM.
PLAB vs MRCEM
Both MRCEM and PLAB are respectable routes that demonstrate skills and knowledge and will allow an international doctor to register with the GMC and work in the UK. To decide which route of the two 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 emergency medicine doctor to obtain a more senior post in the NHS without either MRCEM, 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 MRCEM.
Due to the more specialised nature of MRCEM, we advise emergency medicine doctors to complete MRCEM, as many NHS Trusts will list MRCEM as a requirement on job descriptions. MRCEM also allows IMGs 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.
MRCEM has three stages, the last of which must be taken after at least 24 months of postgraduate experience with at least 6 months in emergency medicine and can take anywhere between 24-36 months to prepare from start to finish.
MRCEM costs £1,115 for the three exams. Whilst the Primary and Intermediate SBA exams are delivered worldwide via computer-based testing company, the OSCE is delivered in London (UK), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kochi (India), so there may be the added expense of international travel.
PLAB costs £1,189, and whilst PLAB 1 can be sat in many overseas centres around the world, PLAB 2 is only delivered in the UK. You can find a list of overseas centres for PLAB 2 here.
So for both MRCEM and PLAB, candidates will have to travel to the UK, meaning that the additional cost of visas, accommodation and flights must be factored in.
It’s also 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 an SHO, does not assess ability in emergency 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., emergency medicine.
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.
MRCEM involves three more difficult examinations and takes more time to prepare for. However, for overseas doctors, attaining MRCEM will allow you to jumpstart your career in the UK, as you don't need PLAB or Core Training.
Additionally, MRCEM will facilitate the application for more senior roles in UK emergency medicine 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 or MRCEM, registrations and qualifications to help you find your dream job in the NHS - take a look at our IMG Resources library.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with one our recruitment specialists if you would like to discuss your options in the NHS once you have completed PLAB or MRCEM.
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