PLAB A brief overview of PLAB.

PLABGUY3091

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The Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board test, or PLAB as it is popularly known, is a test that every doctor who has qualified outside the United Kingdom has to take in order to be a registered medical practitioner with the General Medical Council (GMC). The test helps make sure that doctors who have qualified abroad have the right set of skills to be able to practise medicine in the UK. PLAB is a two step examination which tests your grasp on pre and para-clinical subjects, in addition to your interpersonal skills, and bedside manner.

Most students who are approaching the tail end of their primary medical education will have at some point considered moving to the UK, and working with the NHS as junior doctors and ultimately as consultants, after graduating. Although there are more than a few ways of making this dream come true, the PLAB pathway seems like the preferred choice for most students – mostly because it is fairly straightforward, and the exam is considered easier when compared to similar licensure examinations of other countries. Of course, things are not always as easy as they seem, and taking this decision should ideally entail meticulous planning and adequate foresight. I am going to quickly jot down a few important points which you may have to take care of before you decide on embarking on this journey.

1. Figure out if your medical college or teaching institution is listed with the World Directory of Medical Schools:

This might sound like a daunting task, but it is as easy as a quick Google search. Hop on to their website here, and fill in a few details about your medical institute. A good majority of the students will find their institute on record with the World Directory. Not having your institute be on record with the World Directory of Medical Schools does not mean the end of the road. It is hurdle, but definitely not something you can’t get past. We can explore ways of how one navigates this situation in future articles. I would like to keep the scope of this article as a general overview of PLAB.

2. Get your Primary Medical Qualification from your home country.

Unlike the United States Medical Licensure Examination, which allows students to take the exam at any point during their medical schooling, you will only be allowed to apply for and take the PLAB exams after obtaining your Primary Medical Qualification (PMQ). In addition to having your PMQ, it is also necessary that you finish an acceptable pattern of internship before you apply for full GMC registration. Although it is not necessary for taking the PLAB exam, it would be advisable to make sure that the internship you do at the end of your medical education is adequately acceptable to the GMC. In some countries, students are not granted their PMQ certificates until after they have completed this mandatory 12 month internship.

3. English Language Proficiency:

If you have finished your primary medical education in a non English speaking country, you have to take an English Language Proficiency test, and score the required amount of marks in order to be eligible to take the PLAB exams. You can either opt for IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems), or OET (Occupational English Test). Although both these exams are relatively easy, a non native English speaker might face some level of difficulty in scoring the required marks in order to be able to apply for PLAB. In case you are not completely comfortable with your English speaking skills, it would be advisable to invest some time and maybe even money in a short online course – you will easily find multiple paid and unpaid resources for IELTS online. Since these exams are a little expensive, it would be wise to prepare adequately so as to avoid burning a hole in your pocket from having to take it more than once.

It is important to plan in advance, and take this test as soon as possible, since you will not be able to book your PLAB dates until you have the necessary scores on your English Language Proficiency test. I would be more than happy to write more on this topic in the future, especially for students who may be a little apprehensive about taking this test.

4. EPIC Verification of your PMQ:

Quite like the English Language Proficiency test, this is something that you should begin the process for as soon as possible. EPIC stands for Electronic Portfolio of International Credentials. Through EPIC, the ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) will verify if all the documents that you have submitted along with you PMQ are legitimate. EPIC does this via Primary Source Verification, wherein it will contact either the medical university which awarded you your diploma, or your medical college to make a decision on the legitimacy of your documents.

Since this process often depends on how receptive your university or medical college is to these requests, it may sometimes take longer than expected. Most universities understand that this is a time sensitive issue, and will often try to expedite the process, but this may not always be the case. It would be advisable to start this process along with your application for the English Language Proficiency Test. That way you can be sure to have your PMQ verification done by the time you finish both parts of your PLAB test, and are ready to apply for GMC registration.

5. Setting up your GMC Online account:

Before you actually take your PLAB test, you will need to set up an account with GMC. You will use this account to show GMC that your PMQ and English Language Proficiency test scores are acceptable. This information is verified by GMC, and if it meets their requirement, you can book your place on part 1 of the PLAB test using your GMC Online account.

6. Taking PLAB 1:

Now comes the fun part that most of us have probably been waiting for – actually taking the PLAB 1 exam. PLAB 1 is a written exam made up of 180 multiple choice questions which you must answer within three hours. Each question will have a clinical vignette, followed by a question. You need to choose the right answer out of the possible five options given. You will be able to book your test from your GMC Online account.

In the UK, GMC runs the exam four times a year – in March, June, September, and November. In overseas locations, the exam is hosted by the British Council, and is held two times a year – in March and November. Since these exams are in high demand, and the numbers of spots available for booking are in short supply, it would make sense to keep an eye out for any official notifications from GMC with regards to opening up of new slots. In any case students will not be able to see these slots, or apply for them without a valid IELTS or OET score, which is the reason why I previously mentioned that taking these English Language Proficiency tests as early as possible should be the first order of business.

Although many students do consider PLAB 1 to be easier than other licensure exams like USMLE, and AMC, one must not take it lightly. An average student might need anywhere between 2 and 3 months of dedicated studying to prepare for this exam. There are the occasional outliers who are able to prepare for and take the PLAB 1, along with full time jobs, and family commitments, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. You need to judge yourself and decide how long you would like to take to prepare for the exam. Book a slot accordingly.

There are multiple online sources that can aide you in your PLAB 1 preparation. Everything from Facebook groups, to compiled questions from previous PLAB exams. Although chances of the same question being repeated from previous PLAB exams are slim, the general theme of the questions is definitely repeated. It would therefore be extremely valuable for you to practice as many mock questions as possible. There are multiple paid and unpaid question banks available online. PLABABLE is one resource which I would personally like to recommend. Another noteworthy resource would be the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. Use this wisely, and sparingly. If you have built a solid foundation during your medical school education, you may be able to sail through with only solving mock tests, and reading the short explanations at the end of these questions. But if you feel you need an extra edge, it would be helpful to keep a copy of the Oxford Handbook close by.
 

PLABGUY3091

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7. Taking PLAB 2:

Unlike the PLAB 1, PLAB 2 can only be taken in the United Kingdom (in Manchester), almost throughout the year. You will be able to see the available slots for PLAB 2, and book one for yourself on your GMC Online account only after passing your PLAB 1 exam.

PLAB 2 is an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), and may be a little challenging for non-native English speakers. You are faced with 18 clinical scenarios, each lasting eight minutes. The exam aims to reflect real life settings, including mock consultations or acute ward scenarios.

Although it is not completely necessary to do this, but you may join one of various PLAB 2 teaching courses which are available in the UK. Most courses will run for a couple of weeks, and the slots may be available throughout the year. You can pick a course based on the slots available for your PLAB 2 test, so that you have a few days after your course ends to practice on your own, or with a study partner before going for the actual test. Although I am personally averse to the idea of preparing for any exam with a study partner, for an OSCE style exam, a study partner would be particularly helpful in my opinion.

8. Application for GMC registration:

Once your PLAB 2 scores are out, the wait for which can be an excruciating test of your patience, you can now apply for your GMC registration. You have put in the hard work of preparing for the exams, taking them, travelling to a foreign country, and meticulously planning every detail of this journey. All that separates you from starting your clinical career as a doctor in the UK is your GMC registration. You can do this from your GMC Online account. After submitting the online application and making all necessary payments you have to wait to hear back from GMC.

This process might seem a little cumbersome, and may take anywhere between 2 to 3 months to complete. If at any point you feel you have questions regarding the process you can get in touch with GMC. They are extremely receptive to e-mail queries, and usually get back to you with a satisfactory answer to your questions as well.

Once your GMC registration comes through, you can start applying to various jobs in the NHS. Applying for jobs, and making sure you ace the interview process is also as big a task as preparing for and taking the PLAB exams, but it is definitely not something you won’t be able to do. In subsequent articles we can delve into various other aspects of PLAB including, and not limited to – funding your PLAB journey, preparing for IELTS, resources for PLAB 1, study schedules, visa issues, etc.