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The curious case of PLAB


Today was a good day when my nagging self got hold of Dr. Usama Basit, who gave in to my constant messages and some thought provoking questions regarding the professional exams in the field of Medicine.

For all of you out there who what to save lives, do have a look at what our life saver  right here has to say about the much dreaded PLAB examination, a professional exam which helps you make way into the medicine in the UK.

What is the PLAB exam and how does it help in initiating a medical career in UK?

There are many routes of entry into the UK for doctors who wish to train here. The easiest and most common one is to take the PLAB  (or Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board) exam and become GMC certified. Let me tell you a bit about this - basically any country that you work in has their own authority that confirms that you are good to practice in that country. For Pakistan, that authority is the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, for the UK it is the General Medical council. Passing BOTH PLAB 1&2 gets you the license for the GMC to practice. After you get those out of the way and are certified then you are basically allowed to practice in the UK. That's what people usually do.

The PLAB exams are the basic, entrance-level exams. You could potentially also get GMC certified by taking any of the more advanced membership exams for any of the Royal Colleges (but more about that at a later juncture - let’s keep this simple!)

The bottom line is you can not practice medicine in the UK without being GMC certified, and the easiest and most common route of entry to get that is to take the PLAB exams.

What kind of a format does this exam follow and what time limit does the candidate have for the exam

The PLAB has 2 parts - both are compulsory to pass individually. The first part is theoretical, and is based on the multiple choice questions format (or should I say, the single best answer format). You are given three hours to answer 200 questions. I have often heard people lament that the time is not enough, but I think it is doable. It may be difficult if you are not used to such a format, but in this field, better get used to this format, because later exams are also going to be in the same manner, same time frame (possibly even worse!)

The second part is interactive and consists of multiple stations. It is OSCE-based format, where each candidate rotates in 14 stations, each station assessing a different skill. Examples of such interactive sessions include taking a proper history, examining certain system, counselling a patient about something, and so on.

You can attempt the PLAB 1 as many times as you wish. Once you pass it, you have three years to pass the second part, failing which you will have to take the PLAB 1 again. You have 4 maximum attempts to take the PLAB 2.

Does the test have a certain validity?

Once you pass both parts of the exam and are GMC certified, you do not have to retake it again. You just have to keep up to date your assessments and your competence and you get re-validated automatically every 5 years.

 Any specific tips on cracking the test?

For the first part, I would advise go back to your roots, back to the basics. The whole syllabus is available on the GMC/PLAB websites. Try to practice as many questions as you can, get your tempo going, get used to this format before you take the exam. 2-3 months of prep should be enough.
For the second part, it can only be taken in the UK so make sure you have everything sorted before you travel for the exam. There are course available which guide and prepare and help practice the various stations that may come in the exam. These preparatory courses are much recommended before you take the PLAB 2 (if you have never worked in the UK or similar circumstances before).

I hope this conversation today helps eager minds when making tough career decisions if there are still any queries regarding the subject at hand, they can be addressed to the interviewee via The Placement Office.

* Dr Usama Basit is serving as an Emergency Medicine Internee in Ipswich, UK after having done his MBBS from The Shifa International college, Islamabad and serving there as a Medical officer He appeared  for his PLAB exam in 2014.

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