If you are an international medical graduate (IMG), choosing where you want to work can be a hassle. Usually, people go to the US or UK, but to become a doctor there, you must pass specific licensing exams. These licensing exams are either the USMLE or PLAB, which follow very specific processes and criteria to write.
In the coming paragraph, we will compare both, but you should know that this comparison is not about comparing which exam is better or easier to pass. But to highlight the processes and criteria you need to meet to take each exam.
The PLAB stands for Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board. This exam is divided into two parts and ensures that IMGs possess the necessary skills and knowledge to work as a doctor in the UK. When you pass the PLABs, it means that you are eligible to get GMC registration.
GMC registration is an essential part of becoming a medical practitioner in the UK. This is because the certification as a doctor in the UK is governed by the General Medical Council (GMC). However, you should note that the GMC does not give you any degree, only a certificate.
Writing the PLAB
There is no specific point you need the PLAB exam to become a UK doctor. However, it is better to write the exam earlier so far you have gotten a primary qualification in medicine.
The PLAB exam has two parts
- PLAB 1
- PLAB 2
The PLAB 1 has 180 MCQs and lasts three hours. You can only take this exam if you have a primary medical qualification. You can take this exam anywhere in the world from March and November. However, in the UK, there are additional dates for the exam in September and June.
To take the PLAB 1, you need to take the IELTS/OET and must get at least a 7.5 overall with a minimum of 7 in all sections. For the OET, you must get a “B”. The OET (Occupation English Test) and IELTS are used to prove your level of proficiency in English.
The PLAB 2 is an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) which tests the participants’ level of clinical knowledge in Medicine. To take the exam, you must pass through 18 stations, each with its examiner that assesses your clinical expertise in real-life situations. These stations span 8 minutes each.
For you to write this exam, you must pass PLAB 1. However, after two years of passing PLAB 1, you can’t take PLAB 2. You must retake PLAB 1.
The cost of the PLAB exam
- IELTS costs £175
- OET costs £338
- PLAB costs £247
- PLAB costs £906
- GMC registration costs £53
The total cost for the provisional registration pathway is £1,381 to £1,544. At the same time, the entire complete registration pathway costs £1,489 to £1,991.
Scheduling the PLAB exam
The first thing you should do is create a GMC account. Once you are done creating the account, you then schedule your USMLE exam based on what country you are in.
To find where you can write the PLAB exam overseas, contact the British Council in your country of residence.
USMLE stands for United States Medical Licensing Examination. You need to write this exam whether you are an IMG or an American medical graduate. The exam is divided into different steps that you must take at specific points in your medical education to become a practising medical practitioner finally.
In the USMLE, there are three steps. The Steps 1, Step 2 and Step 3.
The USMLE Step 1 is the first exam you take in the USMLE journey. Step 1 tests your basic knowledge of what a medical student should know about clinical medical practice. The exam contains multiple-choice questions. To take the exam, you must first take the ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates).
The exam takes eight hours and is separated into seven blocks that are 60 minutes long each. There are 40 questions per block which sums up to 280 questions.
This is the second exam in the USMLE journey. This exam assesses your clinical knowledge in eight 60-minute long blocks. In this exam, you will cover areas such as the Blood & Lymph System, Behavioral Health, Immune System, Medicine, Psychiatry and Surgery.
This is the final part of the USMLE exam and typically lasts for two days. On the first day, you will cover about 223 questions in 6 blocks. Each block is 60 minutes, but the entire exam lasts for 7 hours.
On the second day, you must first undergo a 9-hour exam. The exam is divided into six blocks and contains 180 questions. After the exam, you then have to face 13 case simulations.
The cost of the USMLE exam
- USMLE Step 1 costs $985
- USMLE Step 2 costs $500 to $100
- USMLE Step 3 costs $300 to $500
- The ECFMG certification costs $160
However, you should know these prices are not 100% stable, and there can be changes. There are added fees you may have when registering for a course.
Scheduling the USMLE exam
Before you can register for your USMLE, you need to register for your ECFMG. From there, you register for the USMLE and get your scheduling permit. After you get your scheduling permit, you can then go to the Prometric website and get a test date.
You should ensure you schedule your test at least six months before you intend to write the exam.
What test should I take? PLAB vs USMLE
You can either take the PLAB or USMLE, depending on what country you want to become a doctor in. For the US, you should take the USMLE, and for the UK, you should take the PLAB.
After you take the entire USMLE exam, you can apply for residency. But for the PLAB, you need to have a GMC registration so that you can apply for a job in the NHS in the UK.