PLAB v Royal College: Which Pathway is Best?

May 1, 2020.

If you’re looking to register with the General Medical Council, you’ll need to evidence your skill and knowledge through either PLAB or a Royal College qualification; but which is best? In this blog, we’ll look at both pathways so you can decide which one is best!

As part of the General Medical Council (GMC) Registration process, all doctors will need to evidence that they have the appropriate knowledge and skills necessary to practice medicine safely in the UK.

Doctors can do this in a variety of ways; however, the two most common pathways are either The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test (PLAB for short) or an acceptable postgraduate qualification.
In this blog post, we’ll share the advantages and disadvantages of each route and hopefully, help you decide on which pathway is right for you.


The Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, helps the GMC to make sure doctors who qualified abroad have the right knowledge and skills to practice medicine safely in the UK.
There are two parts to the test: Part 1 is a written multiple-choice examination with 180 single-best answer questions, held all over the world. Part 2 is a practical objective structures clinical exam, known as an OSCE which is held in the UK.
It’s required that you have an adequate pass in IELTS or OET before you can sit your PLAB exam.

Acceptable Postgraduate Qualifications

Alternatively, if you hold an acceptable postgraduate qualification, you’ll not need to sit the PLAB exams.
The GMC accepts both British and international qualifications – over 60 of them, in fact. So, please do check the list to see if your qualification is accepted.
In the UK, there are 23 medical Royal College and Faculties, with the majority of their qualifications being accepted by the GMC. The purpose of these organisations is to ensure that patients are safely and properly cared for by settings standards for the way doctors are educated, trained and monitored throughout their careers.
Each Royal College has a set of examinations to test the doctor’s knowledge and skills to uphold consistency across all specialties. For example, if you’re a Surgeon, you’ll need to obtain MRCS and if you’re a Psychiatrist, you will need to obtain MRCPsych.

Now to answer your question, should you sit PLAB or obtain a Royal College/acceptable postgraduate qualification?

From our experience, it typically comes down to whether you are a junior or senior doctor.

Junior Doctor

If you’re reading this and are a junior doctor who has a couple of years’ experience but yet to specialise, we’d suggest that you take the PLAB pathway. PLAB is an entry level route to GMC Registration as it replicates a medical year students’ final year exams. It’s a simpler multiple-choice question paper and an OSCE, covering basic medical knowledge.
This route is also perfect for junior doctors who are perhaps unsure on what they want to specialise in, but would definitely like to apply for a UK training post in the future. Typically, with PLAB you can take up an FY2, ST1, ST2, CT1, CT2 and SHO level post. Then, once you have some UK experience you can go ahead and apply for an NHS training post.
The last two advantages are that they cost less than the Royal College qualifications and takes less time to pass them.
That being said, if you’re a senior doctor who has opted for PLAB, please do speak to your Recruitment Consultant as certain specialties, hospitals and departments will accept a senior doctor without an acceptable postgraduate qualification.

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Senior Doctor

Alternatively, if you’re a senior doctor and you’re unsure of the pathway to take to obtain GMC Registration, we strongly recommend that you take the postgraduate qualification route.
The first step is to check that your qualification is not already accepted by the GMC and if not, we’d suggest you look at the Royal College qualifications as it’s likely you’ll need to eventually obtain one to work at a permanent Consultant level in the future.
Royal College qualifications are aimed at specialist doctors because they require a certain level of experience and knowledge. The major benefit of using this route is that it will allow you to work the senior posts within the NHS, without having UK experience whilst commanding a higher salary.
Nevertheless, the two disadvantages are that they can be very expensive as some Royal College qualifications have three-parts. Plus, it can take longer to sit the exams as they’re held less frequently throughout the year.
Typically, with the postgraduate route, you can take up an ST3+ level post and you can wait to sit IELTS/OET until after you have obtained your qualification.

Any questions?

If you have any concerns or you would like some personal guidance from us, please do email and we will be happy to do so.
Of course, if you would like to use ID Medical’s support in securing an NHS post, please register your CV with us here.

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