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MRCP

May 14, 2024

15 Min Read

MRCP vs PLAB: Everything You Need To Know

If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” - Mark Twain

This proverb perfectly captures the importance of tackling the most challenging task first. Not only does it free you from the burden of looming pressure, but it often leads to greater rewards.

Now, you might be wondering why we're discussing frogs and doctors. The reason is simple: as an International Medical Graduate (IMG) embarking on your journey to become a doctor in the UK, you face a similar decision—whether to choose PLAB or MRCP. 

For overseas medical professionals seeking to practise in the UK, PLAB and MRCP exams are crucial stepping stones. PLAB assesses general medical knowledge and skills for GMC registration, allowing you to begin practising. MRCP delves deeper into internal medicine, granting GMC registration and opening doors to specialist training in that field.

In today's article, we will explore the details of these two examinations, why you should take either of them and which one is a better choice for your career. But, first thing first - 

What is GMC registration?

General Medical Council (GMC) is the main regulatory body for doctors in the United Kingdom. It keeps a register of all medical practitioners, general practitioners, and specialists authorised to practise medicine in the UK. 

So, regardless of where you graduated from, you’ll need GMC registration to practise medicine legally in the UK. 

How can you get GMC registration?

As discussed earlier, you can get your GMC registration as an overseas doctor by appearing in either of the two examinations—PLAB or MRCP. However, both exams are very different and will affect your medical career goals. 

Please note that as an Indian Medical Graduate, along with either MRCP or PLAB, you will also need to complete English language proficiency tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Occupational English Test (OET) successfully.

You can get more details regarding the registration from GMC's official website.

What is the PLAB exam?

The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exam is a licensing exam for medical graduates who have qualified overseas and wish to practise medicine in the UK under limited registration. 

It's a two-part assessment designed to ensure you have the necessary knowledge and skills to work safely as a doctor. 

  • PLAB Part 1 is a written exam delivered in MCQ format. It includes 180 single-best answer questions and lasts for 3 hours.
  • PLAB Part 2 is a practical assessment which includes conducting patient consulation at various stations with real-world clinical scenarios. 

By successfully passing PLAB, you demonstrate that you possess the knowledge and skills equivalent to those of a doctor starting the second year of their Foundation Programme training in the UK.

Who can take the PLAB test?

The exam is for International Medical Graduates who have not studied in the UK, European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland. Here are the main criteria for eligibility:

  • Primary Medical Qualification (PMQ): You must hold a medical degree from a medical school recognised by the GMC.
  • English Language Test: Pass an approved English language test like IELTS or OET with a score meeting the GMC's requirements.

Note that completing one year of internship is not a necessary requirement for this exam. However, it may impact the job opportunities available to you after obtaining GMC registration.

When to apply for PLAB?

While you can take the PLAB exams directly after graduation, it's recommended to gain at least one year of medical experience alongside three months of dedicated preparation for each PLAB exam section. This will increase your chances of success, as passing PLAB signifies achieving the competency level of UK FY2 doctors.

PLAB exam structure:

  • PLAB 1: It is a written multiple-choice exam with 180 single best answer questions. It tests your ability to apply knowledge to the care of patients. It covers common conditions and looks at how you would diagnose and treat them.
    • Multiple-choice questions are related to the current best practises in the UK and equipment that are routinely available in UK hospitals. 
    • You get three hours to answer the questions.
    • Each question starts with a short scenario. As an answer, you have to select the best option out of the five
    • You’ll get four attempts to pass this exam.
  • PLAB 2: Also called Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), this is a practical exam. There is a series of stations where you are asked to interact with actors playing the roles of patients. You are tested on your clinical skills and how well you communicate with patients and colleagues.
    • You must have passed Part 1 to appear in Part 2. 
    • It’s a full-day test.
    • You get 18stations.
    • You will be allotted eight minutes for each station
    • There are two rest stations in between.
    • You have to pass Part 2 within two years of clearing Part 1
    • There are four attempts given to clear the exam.

You can apply for a special fifth attempt for Part 1, demonstrating evidence of further learning and improvement over a 12-month period. The GMC will assess your application before allowing you to retake the exam.

The PLAB journey explained

 

PLAB exam centres, dates, and fees:

Part 1 is conducted 4 times a year, while Part 2 tests are run throughout the year

The upcoming dates for Part 1 are:

Exam Dates

Application end date for UK applicants

Application end date for overseas applicants

May 23, 2024

May 9, 2024

April 11, 2024

August 8, 2024

July 25, 2024

June 27, 2024

November 7, 2024

October 24, 2024

September 26, 2024

Whereas Part 1 is conducted globally, and has its centres in India too, the same is not the case with Part 2. As an International/Indian Medical Graduate, you are allowed to take the exam only in Manchester, UK, at the GMC's clinical assessment centre.

PLAB part 1 is conducted around 16 different countries. In India, its locations are at Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and New Delhi.

PLAB exam centres in India 

PLAB Fees (for bookings between 1 April 2023 - 31 March 2024):

Part 1: £255 

Part 2: £934

*As per the GMC UK website

An important point to note here is that Part 2 is only conducted in the UK. So, you will need to travel to the country and will have to bear all the expenses, including visa, tickets, food, and accommodation. Also, the prices of exams are subject to change annually. 

PLAB exam update for 2024:

The PLAB test will become compliant with the Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA) requirements in 2024. While it may sound complex, the overall testing experience won't differ significantly for IMGs. 

Under compliance, the current PLAB blueprint will be replaced with the MLA content map, a document outlining core medical knowledge, skills, and behaviours expected of UK doctors. As PLAB part 1 and part 2 are already designed to test these areas; the standard of the test, the types of questions, and the stations used will not change.

What happens after the PLAB exam results?

The results are out after approximately six weeks of examination. You must visit the GMC website to get the result. After passing both PLAB 1 and PLAB 2, you'll be eligible to apply for GMC registration. Once your registration is complete, you'll receive a certificate of registration from the GMC. You can then apply for junior-level posts in the UK National Health Service (NHS). 

Doctor Grades in the UK

What is the MRCP exam?

The Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) diploma is a postgraduate medical examination conducted in series for doctors who want to specialise in internal medicine in the UK. It is a globally recognised postgraduate qualification.

It tests the skills, knowledge, and behaviour of doctors, ensuring they're ready to provide high-quality care to patients. You will need to clear three exams to get this diploma degree. Passing the MRCP exams shows that, as a physician, you have the knowledge and necessary skills to practise internal medicine. The MRCP (UK) diploma certificate is universally esteemed as a benchmark for excellence among physicians. 

The examinations are conducted by the Federation of the Medical Royal Colleges (FMRC) – the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Who can take the MRCP exam?

Unlike PLAB, which is only for IMGs, the MRCP diploma is for all medical graduates. It means the certificate is equally important to a graduate from the UK as it is to you as an IMG. Here are the main criteria for eligibility:

  • Primary Medical Qualification (PMQ): You must have graduated with a degree in medicine from a GMC-recognized institution.

  • Medical experience: Unlike PLAB, a year of medical experience (internship) is mandatory to appear in the exam. This experience must be gained in a registered medical setting, preferably a hospital. 

Familiarity with the British healthcare system and common medical terminology used in the UK can be advantageous for passing the exam. 

You can explore it in detail in our article: The Complete Guide to the MRCP (UK) Exams 2024.

When to apply for MRCP?

Starting MRCP exams right after graduation isn't recommended. Gain at least one year of postgraduate medical experience to build a stronger foundation. You'll need this experience to be eligible for the exam anyway.

Ideally, space out your exams strategically. MRCP recommends attempting:

  • MRCP Part 1 within 12-24 months of graduation.
  • MRCP Part 2 Written within 36 months of graduation.
  • PACES after 36 months and passing Part 2 Written.

MRCP UK exam structure:

The exam is conducted in three sets, which are:

MRCP Part 1 Written is an entry-level exam conducted to test your understanding of the clinical sciences vital for practising medicine. This exam focuses on common and important disorders you will encounter during your medical career.

  • It is a computer-based exam administered by Surpass at a test centre internationally or online via a proctoring service in the UK.
  • There are two papers. Each paper has 100 MCQs, and you get three hours for each paper.
  • The questions are in the best-of-five pattern. There are five options - one correct answer and four alternatives to the correct answer. You have to choose the best answer from the five possible answers.
  • A fixed number of questions are composed of broad clinical topics.
  • You have six attempts to clear the exam.

MRCP Part 2 Written is again a computer-based exam to be taken only after you pass Part 1. The exam tests the medical knowledge, skills, and behaviour as specified in the UK Specialty Training Curriculum for Core Medical Training

  • You can take this exam only after clearing MRCP Part 1, and that too, within seven years of passing it
  • It is a computer-based exam administered by Surpass at a test centre internationally or online via a proctoring service in the UK.
  • The exam will test your ability to apply clinical understanding, make clinical judgements and take responsibility. The related fields on which you will be tested are prioritising diagnostic or problem lists, planning an investigation, selecting a plan for immediate management, selecting a plan for long-term management, and assessing prognosis.
  • There are two papers. Each paper has 100 MCQs, and you get three hours for each paper.
  • The questions are in the best-of-five pattern. You have to choose the best answer from the five possible answers.
    You will get six attempts to clear the exam.

PACES, also called Part 2 Clinical, is a practical exam that evaluates your clinical competence and communication skills in real-life scenarios. It tests your competence to ensure that you are ready to provide a high standard of care to patients.

  • You can take this exam only after clearing MRCP Part 1, and that too, within seven years of passing it. 
  • It is recommended that you take MRCP Part 2 before appearing in this exam. As PACES is considerably difficult, a prior two years of working experience will also help
  • It is a half-day exam conducted in hospitals or clinical skills centres.
  • You will be assessed for your ability to carry out essential clinical skills. 
  • There are five clinical stations. Each station has a patient with a given condition or trained stand-ins called surrogates.
  • Each station will have two independent examiners
  • An interaction with the patient or surrogate is called an encounter. There will be eight encounters. Stations 2 and 5 involve one encounter, whereas stations 1, 3, and 4 have two encounters.
  • Stations 1, 3, and 4 get ten minutes of encounter. At stations 2 and 5, the encounter duration is 20 minutes. You will get a 5-minute interval to finish the clinical assessment between each station.
  • You will be examined for seven core skills
  • You have six attempts to clear the exam.

After clearing MRCP Part 1, you can take either MRCP Part 2 or appear for PACES first. There is no preferential order for appearing in any. However, you are advised to take Part 2 before appearing for PACES.

The journey from MRCP to GMC

MRCP exam centres, dates, results, and fees:

Unlike PLAB, all parts of MRCP are conducted globally, with its centres for all three exams in India as well. That means, as an Indian Medical Graduate, you need not travel to the UK to take this exam. Part 1 and Part 2 centres in India are in New Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kerala, and Mumbai. 

MRCP Part 1 and Part 2 exam centres in India

PACES, on the other hand, is conducted at centres in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, New Delhi, Puducherry, Pune, and Thiruvananthapuram. 

Dates:

MRCP exams are conducted four times a year. The upcoming exam dates for 2024 are:

For MRCP Part 1

Application Period

Adjustment Deadline

Exam Date

Results By

05 February - 12 February 2024 (Closed)

19 February 2024

17 April 2024

17 May 2024

03 June- 10 June 2024

17 June 2024

14 August 2024

13 September 2024

05 August -12 August 2024

19 August 2024

16 October 2024

15 November 2024

*Reference: MRCP UK Website

For MRCP Part 2

Application Period

Adjustment Deadline

Exam Date

Results By

04 December - 11 December 2023 (Closed)

18 December 2023

21 February 2024

22 March 2024

18 March -25 March 2024

01 April 2024

15 May 2024

14 June 2024

08 July - 15 July 2024 (Closed)

22 July 2024

11 September 2024

11 October 2024

16 September - 23 September 2024

30 September 2024

20 November 2024

20 December 2024

* Reference : MRCP UK Website

PACES 

Diets

Application Open

Application Close

Assessment Period

2024/01

09 October 2023 (Closed)

16 October 2023

January - March

2024/02

05 February - 12 February 2024 (Closed)

19 February 2024

Early June - August

2024/03

03 June- 10 June 2024

17 June 2024

September - early December

* Reference: MRCP UK Website

For IMGs, PACES exam results are out between 4 to 6 weeks after the last exam in the respective centre. All results are available on the MRCP UK website

MRCP Fees:

Let’s now look at the fees:

Exam

Current Fee
(Great British Pound)

Updated Fee from July 2024
(Great British Pound)

Part 1 (Entry Level)

UK 

£460

£489

International 

£616

£655

Part 2 (Written)

UK

£460

£489

International

£616

£655

PACES (Clinical)

UK

£657

£698

International

£1,202

£1,278

* Reference: MRCP UK Website

What happens after the MRCP UK exam results?

Completing MRCP is a significant achievement. It demonstrates your expertise in internal medicine and opens up a world of possibilities for your future career. 

First, you can file for GMC registration. Plus, you also become eligible to get registered with Speciality Training in the UK to pursue further specialty training programs after MRCP. This allows you to focus on a specific area of internal medicine like cardiology, gastroenterology, or respiratory medicine. 

Also, unlike PACES, with MRCP, you can apply for various specialist physician roles, including specialist registrar roles (ST3 and above) in the UK healthcare system, with the potential for further advancement depending on experience. 

MRCP vs. PLAB:

By far we have discussed all the differences between these two exams. However, here is everything you need for a quick glance:

Features

PLAB

MRCP UK

Opportunities

GMC Registration

Yes

Yes

Exam Type

Licensing exam

Postgraduate degree exam

Recognition

UK 

International

Job Opportunities in the UK (NHS)

Junior doctors, FY2 up to ST3

ST3+ Middle grade

Entrance to Speciality Training

No

Yes

Exam Structure

Eligibility

PMQ from GMC recognised institution + IELTS/OET

PMQ from GMC recognised institution + 12 months of professional experience 

Numbers of Exams

2 (1 written, 1 practical)

3 (2 written, 1 practical)

Attempts

4

6

Completion Duration

Short

Long

Level of difficulty

Easy to moderate

Moderate to difficult

Cost

Lower
(but expenses that occurred while appearing for Part 2 are not included)

Higher (but all-inclusive)

Global Centres

Only for Part 1, for Part 2, you will need to travel to the UK

All 3 parts are conducted globally

Application Website

GMC

MRCP

Choosing the right path to Your UK Medical Career with TERN:

For International Medical Graduates (IMGs) seeking to practise medicine in the UK, both PLAB and MRCP UK represent stepping stones to a fulfilling career. However, the most suitable path depends on your individual goals and experience.

Whichever path you choose, once cleared, the next step is to find a suitable job in the UK healthcare system. This is where TERN can help!

Our platform puts AI to work to find your perfect job match. Our team provides personalised support throughout the process- from navigating GMC registration to crafting a compelling CV that showcases your qualifications to potential employers. 

Trust us! We do not stop here. 

Once you get your dream job, our partnership grows stronger, and you will find us by your side every step of the way; be it getting a VISA, arranging accommodation in the UK, or connecting you with your community. 

TERN remains your committed partner beyond securing your dream role. We offer ongoing support to help you integrate seamlessly into your new workplace and community.

Don't navigate the UK healthcare system alone. Partner with TERN and let us guide you towards a rewarding future!

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