There are several routes a microbiologist can take to register with the GMC and practice in the UK.
Microbiologists looking to secure a job in the NHS must satisfy certain criteria before to be eligible for GMC registration, which is a requirement to work in the UK. This generally depends on where you received your training, and the qualifications you hold.
In this blog, we’ll be giving you a snapshot of the steps you need to take to begin your journey to the UK as an overseas microbiologist. We’ll be covering the following:
What is the GMC?
What are the requirements for GMC registration?
How do I demonstrate my knowledge and skills as an EEA microbiologist?
How do I demonstrate my knowledge and skills as a non-EEA microbiologist?
How can I demonstrate my English language skills?
What is a certificate of good standing and how do I get one?
How do I register with the GMC?
Will I need a visa to work in the UK?
Skip ahead to the relevant section if you know what you’re looking for.
The General Medical Council
The GMC is the body in the UK which is responsible for licensing and revalidating every doctor. Therefore, for every doctor practicing in the UK, GMC registration is essential – you cannot practice in the UK without full GMC registration with a license to practise.
The primary responsibility of the General Medical Council is to ‘protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public’ in addition to improving medical education and practice across the UK.
Requirements for GMC Registration
Registering with the GMC is a multi-stage process, including key timings, actions and documents. For full GMC registration, international doctors must provide evidence of:
Skills & Knowledge for EEA Microbiologists
For microbiologists who trained in an EEA country (all countries inside the EU, also Lichtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland & Norway), you may be able to use your primary medical qualification (PMQ) or specialist qualification to register with the GMC.
Basic Medical Training
If you meet the requirements for basic medical training, you would be eligible for full registration.
You will not need to demonstrate your medical knowledge and skills to work as a doctor in the UK and would therefore not need to complete any additional skills and knowledge tests to register for a license to practice.
Specialist Training / Residency
If you meet the criteria for entry onto the Specialist Register, then once you have completed the GMC application process, you would be granted Specialist Registration in microbiology and can be appointed as a substantive or permanent consultant in the NHS.
Therefore, for European microbiologists, using your primary medical qualification (PMQ) or specialist qualification is most likely the easiest route to becoming GMC-registered and being able to practice microbiology in the UK.
To find out if your country’s qualifications will allow you to register for either GMC registration; check the relevant GMC page here.
If your training does not meet the GMC requirements for general or specialist registration, other routes you may consider to GMC registration as listed below.
Skills & Knowledge for non-EEA Microbiologists
If you qualified as a microbiologist outside the EEA, then you will have to demonstrate that both your medical knowledge and skills meet the level required to practice safely in the UK.
IMG microbiologists can demonstrate skills and knowledge through three main routes:
PLAB or the Professional & Linguistics Assessment Board 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 microbiology 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, microbiologists 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.
The Royal College of Pathologists is the professional body that regulates the specialism of microbiology in the UK, and Fellowship 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 IMG Resources library for a complete guide to FRCPath to learn more.
GMC-recognised or equivalent qualifications
Some overseas qualifications and licensing exams are recognised by the GMC and accepted for registration purposes.
To find out if your qualification is accepted by the GMC, take a look at our blog: GMC-accepted postgraduate qualifications.
English Language Testing
Both EEA and non-EEA microbiologists, 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 IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or the OET (OET – Occupational English Test). Detailed guides to these tests can be found below:
IELTS – a guide for overseas doctors
OET – a guide for overseas doctors
Exemption from English tests
For doctors who have at least two years of their most recent 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.
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.
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.
Applying for 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
Certificate of good standing – the certificate from your medical regulatory authority which demonstrates good standing
(EEA microbiologists) Sufficient skill and knowledge – as an EEA microbiologist, this would either be your recognised EEA qualification
(Non-EEA microbiologist) Sufficient skill and knowledge – as a non-EEA microbiologist, this would either be PLAB, FRCPath or a GMC-approved qualification.
To understand the registration process more fully, read our article on GMC registration for overseas doctors here.
IMGs relocating to the UK will need to apply for a visa from the 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 application process & documents needed.
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?
There you have it! Hopefully this clarifies any worries or doubts you may have on your route to the UK as a microbiologist planning a career in the NHS. If you have any questions or wish to know more about the microbiology job market, then get in touch with our team.
For regular news and updates on the Royal College and all things pathology, follow IMG Connect on social media using the links below:
FRCPath Part 1 Online
In response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal College of Pathologists has decided to migrate all part 1 FRCPath exams online. This includes FRCPath 1 in Histopathology, Haematology, Microbiology.
This means FRCPath Part 1 may be taken from the comfort of your own home. This development allows the College to continue to offer the FRCPath Part 1 exam to both UK trainees and overseas pathologists.
Please note that the delivery of FRCPath Part 2 remains offline, with examinations being conducted in person, but socially distanced.
FRCPath Part 1 Delivery
The format of the Part 1 exam is unchanged – 125 SBA (or multiple choice) and EMQs (extended matching questions) which aim to assess the candidate's overall knowledge and understanding of histo/ cytopathology, basic science underpinning pathology (including microbiology) and full understanding of autopsy practices undertaken in an NHS District General Hospital.
Previously, FRCPath Part 1 was available in multiple overseas centres, and it is anticipated that the College will return to this set-up once COVID-19 has been better managed globally.
The online exam will be held delivered through a company called TestReach. The College delivered the first sitting on this online format in Autumn 2020.
Candidates will have the opportunity to trial the examination software before the exam to familiarise themselves with it ahead of time. The TestReach system is full-proctored, and candidates will need to complete both an IT systems and environment check before the exam. These checks will ensure that candidates devices are suitable for the exam and that they are in an environment which satisfy exam conditions I.e. where they do not have access to textbooks or other revision materials.
For more information on the online examination see the College website here, or read their FAQs here.
How to apply
The application window for the Spring 2022 sitting of the FRCPath Part 1 exam will open at the end of November/ early December and close in mid-January. Whilst the examination date has yet to be finalised – candidates are advised to apply early and may withdraw their place for a refund if the examination date is unsuitable.
The cost of the exam is £673. For up-to-date information on exam and application dates, keep an eye on the College website here.
For more information on FRCPath in Histopathology, take a look at our collection of articles and blogs here, where we explore the full examination suite, including a detailed look at the structure and format, fees and preparation and resources.
If you are looking for general information that any overseas doctors might need to know - then check out our IMG Resources library.
We hope this is helpful for any overseas doctors preparing to sit their FRCPath Part 1 exam and the team here at IMG Connect wish you the best of luck!
Don’t forget to share your progress and successes with us using the hashtag #imgstories on social media, we love to hear from you.
Join the online histopathology community – connect with like-minded histopathologists and dedicated pathology recruiters in the IMG Histopathologists Facebook group.
For regular news and updates on the Royal College and all things histopathology, follow IMG Connect on social media using the links below:
Overseas Microbiologists wanting to secure a job in the UK via the postgraduate qualificaiton route will need to attain Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists or FRCPath in Medical Microbiology, a sub-specialty exam of FRCPath.
International Medical Graduates (IMGs) from any country in the world can sit the sub-specialty FRCPath in Medical Microbiology examinations, provided certain eligibility criteria are met. These are summarised below along with a broad look at the following topics:
What is FRCPATH in Medical Microbiology?
Eligibility for overseas doctors
FRCPath in Medical Microbiology structure and format
FRCPath in Medical Microbiology: Part 1
FRCPath in Medical Microbiology: Part 2
As an overseas candidate where can I take the exam and how much will it cost me?
How do I apply?
How to prepare and what resources are available
Passed? What next?
What is FRCPath in Medical Microbiology?
Set against the Medical Microbiology incorporating CIT curriculum, the examinations act as an early assessment of your understanding of the scientific basis of medical microbiology, virology and infectious diseases. The exams recognise microbiologists close to the end of their training who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge and technique for independent practice. In other words, completion of the full set of exams (Part 1 & 2) demonstrates your ability to work at consultant level.
The examinations are split into two parts:
Part 1 – single 3-hour paper with Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ)
Part 2 – four paper examination sat over two days
Eligibility for overseas doctors:
Below we outline the eligibility for overseas doctors looking to sit both FRCPath Microbiology exams. For international candidates, the eligibility criteria for FRCPath specialty examinations can be a little confusing when looking online so IMG Connect spoke to the Royal College directly to clarify this.
Time spent in microbiology training is stated as a requirement of eligibilty and the Royal College do consider equivalents to NHS training programmes though there is no list of countries with accepted or unaccepted training programmes. The royal college advises you should speak to your Educational Supervisor or Sponsor (if you have one) who can advise you if you are ready or eligible to sit the Examinations if you are unsure. Remember, there are many overseas doctors applying for all parts of the FRCPath exams so don’t be put off applying!
Top Tip: If you have the required months training in a recognised programme in your country for Histopathology specifically, the chances are you will be eligible.
Eligibility for Part 1: You are required to have trained in a recognised training programme in microbiology for a period of no less than 12 months.
Eligibility for Part 2: You must have passed the Part 1 examination and have had at least 3 years microbiology training in a recognised training programme in your country.
FRCPath Part 1 in Microbiology - structure and format:
The exam focuses in particular on the scientific basis of virology, microbiology and infection. The exam is set against both the medical microbiology and virology curriculum. It is a single three-hour objective MCQ examination, with computerised marking sat over one one day. Questions are in two formats:
FRCPath Part 2 in Microbiology - structure and format:
Part 2 consists of four paper examinations sat over two days. The exam will be ‘closed book’ (i.e. NO textbooks, manuals, other written material or equipment
belonging to candidates may be used). Only reference material provided by the examiners may be used. These are as follows:
Paper 1 – two parts, 2.5 hours in total:
One essay from a choice of two questions, usually including laboratory management issues, antimicrobial stewardship, infection prevention or a combinatino of all.
One SAQ paper focused on clinical scenarios, infection prevention, laboratory practice and safety.
The essay is allocated one third of available marks for this paper. A closed marking scheme is used for the essay question.
Top Tip: A brief vignette with interpretation of clinical, laboratory or infection control data is a common format for SAQs.
Paper 2 - two parts, 2.5 hours in total:
Critical appraisal of a journal article
SAQ paper with similar content as Paper 1
The journal article is allocated one third of available marks for this paper
Paper 3 – one part in laboratory scenarios, 3 hours in total
Complex clinical and laboratory scenarios in microbiology and infection prevention.
Top Tip: Questions cover similar content to Paper 1&2 SAQs though the question format is longer, allowing for progression within each scenario to reflect evolving information encountered in clinical practice. Clinical and laboratory data and images may be presented, however there will be no practical manipulation of laboratory material.
Paper 4 – one part, 3 hours in total
Objective Structured Pathology Examination (OSPE) format.
Comprises of 15 stations, each of 9 minutes duration with variable rest stations.The exam allows for broad sampling of the curriculum and involves two face-to-face stations with a pair of examiners. The OSPE facilitates assessment of knowledge, application of knowledge, laboratory skills, and communication in scenarios encountered by microbiologists in clinical practice.
Pass criteria for FRCPath Microbiology Part 2 Exams:
In order to achieve an overall pass, you must achieve a pass in both combined scores for:
Papers 1+ 2
Papers 3 + 4
Failure of either of the two components will result in an overall fail. If you fail either of these two components, an overall fail result will be obtained and the entire examination will need to be taken at a future date. In other words, you cannot carry forward a pass in any part of the exam into subsequent sittings.
Where can I take the exams and how much will they cost me?
FRCPath in Medical Microbiology - Part 1:
In Spring 2021, the Part 1 examination will be offered using online delivery to candidates. This means you can take the exam remotely and will not need to travel overseas to sit the exam, or attend an examination centre. The College will deliver the written components of these examinations through a company called TestReach, the Oral components (including oral OSPE stations) will be delivered using a video-conferencing platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams and for the written examinations, candidates will be given the opportunity to trial the TestReach system to familiarise themselves with it ahead of the examination. You can read more about the new, remote examination process further here on our website. Previously, the Part 1 examination was sat in multiple overseas centres and once the pandemic is under better control globally, it is highly anticipated the Royal College will return to previous set-ups.
The FRCPath Part 1 exam costs £622. You can see how the Royal College breaks down the cost here on their website.
FRCPath in Medical Microbiology - Part 2:
Currently it can only be sat in the UK. Availability of overseas Part 2 examination centres will be indicated on the website and candidates should contact the Examinations Department to express their interest in taking the examination in the available centre. In 2021 no overseas Part 2 examinations will take place in the Spring session, and it is highly unlikely an overseas centre will be available for Microbiology in 2021.
The FRCPath Part 2 exam costs £1,308. You can see how the Royal College breaks down the cost here on their website.
How do I apply?
Applications must be made via the Royal College of Pathologists website, with applications only available once an application window is opened by the Royal College.
How to prepare and what resources are available?
With lots of resources available online, we have discussed with consultants the best place to start looking for materials relating to the exams. Most recommended starting with the Royal College, who have created useful resources to help you to prepare for the exams.
Below we have included resources available through the Royal College and a few other resources recommend by doctors that have passed.
Curriculum: The content of the exam is set against the Curriculum for Specialty Training in Medical Microbiology. This curriculum incorporates the Combined Infection Training developed in conjunction with the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board. Part A is set against both the medical microbiology and virology curriculum.
TOP TIP: We recommend getting to know the curriculum as early as possible and using it as a road map for your study plan. This advice comes directly from one of the RCPath examiners/
Regulations and Guidelines: Before applying for FRCPath examinations, the Royal College recommends you read both the General & Specialty Specific regulations and guidelines:
General Regulations and Guidelines
Royal College - Medical Microbiology Regulations & Guidelines
Past papers: Test your knowledge using example questions from the current exam syllabus provided by the Royal College:
Medical Microbiology and Virology - Part 1 MCQ & EMQ
Medical Microbiology Part 2 – OSPE
Medical Microbiology Part SAQ
Medical Microbiology Part 2 – Paper 3
Medical Microbiology Part 2 – Essay
Medical Microbiology Part 2 - Journal
On-the-day Exam Advice:
Part 2 – food and drink: With multiple exams taking place for Part 2 in one day bring supplies! It will be a long day and there may not be access to food.
Hiring a microscope: For Part 2 you will be required to sit examinations in the UK and will require a microscope. The examination centres will not provide equipment for any applicants so you will need to hire a microscope in advance.
There are a few companies easily accessible through a web search, find a microscope and book well in advance of the exam. You can arrange for the company to drop off and pick up the microscope from the exam centre, don’t worry!
Top Tip: At IMG Connect we recommend speaking to anyone you know who has sat and passed the exam and get their personal hints and tips. We would also be happy to help you arrange anything you need for the exam day.
I passed the FRCPath Medical Microbiology exam! What next?
First of all, congratulations! After you have passed all parts of FRCPath in Medical Microbiology you can apply for full registration with a license to practice. Once the GMC have approved your application, you can work as a doctor in the UK.
Searching for Medical Microbiology & Virology jobs in the NHS could not be easier
If you want to find out more about the many different Microbiology roles available within the NHS - it only takes a minute to register with IMG Connect and receive expert advice and representation. We have helped many overseas Medical Mircobiologists secure consultant, specialty doctor, registrar, clinical fellow and staff grade NHS jobs, whilst offering expert guidance to many more IMGs on NHS doctor pay, FRCPath exams and English language testing. We’d be happy to help you!