Updated: April 10, 2020
Not everyone sees the UK as a desirable place to live and work. Who can blame them with the gloomy weather and damp days?
Although some of us are crazy enough to stay, there are those who are only looking for an opportunity to complete a short period of training (1-2 years) to bring their skills back home.
If this is you, then keep reading, this article discusses the key concepts for short-term training in the UK and the 4 main ways to achieve your goal.
The world of fellowships, scholarships and GMC-sponsorships is a bit of a labyrinth. Familiarise yourself with these key concepts first so you don’t get lost in the details.
- There is no set definition of what a fellowship is. For the purpose of this article, fellowship refers to short-term periods of clinical training, usually no more than 2 years.
- Training can be obtained at any level including both junior and senior grades.
- Training is not limited to purely clinical posts. There are opportunities to gain a Diploma or Masters degree and incorporate both clinical work and research.
- Most posts will fund your salary in the UK and some offer a scholarship. Others will not pay you a salary and require you to secure funding from an organisation in your home country.
- Each type of fellowship, scholarship or GMC-sponsorship has their own requirements, timelines, and rules.
- Many programmes only have openings once a year.
- You can usually bring your family over for the time you are in the UK.
1. The Medical Training Initiative (MTI)
The MTI scheme allows a limited number of IMGs (1,500 per year) to gain clinical training and experience in the UK for a maximum of 2 years on a Tier 5 Government authorised exchange visa. The intention of the scheme is that you will gain training and experience in the NHS which you can then apply to your practice back home.
The visa is sponsored by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges with a very strict 2-year limit. There are no extensions for any reason – even if you have not finished a project that you started whilst in the UK, or become pregnant during the scheme. You must leave the UK upon expiry of your visa, but you can always return on a different visa.
There has been news that the government is planning to increase the number of visas available for the MTI scheme to 3,000 per year and extend the validity to 3 years. This has not yet happened but we will update this post when the changes have come about.
There are several benefits to pursuing a spot on the MTI scheme.
- Guaranteed training. One of the requirements of an MTI post is that it involves training for you while not disadvantaging UK trainees. This is important because it ensures that your time in the UK will actually involve training and you will not be used for service provision.
- Access to an e-Portfolio. As this is considered a post for training, most jobs will give you access to an electronic portfolio to keep track of all your achievements.
- Possibility of bypassing PLAB. Some sponsors will help you register with the GMC if you have a foreign specialist qualification or part of a UK postgraduate qualification. This can be used in place of PLAB Bear in mind that if you have passed both parts of PLAB, or if you have ever failed either PLAB 1 or PLAB 2 in the past, then you cannot apply for an MTI post.
- Lower costs. If a post does not require PLAB, then you will save a considerable amount of money in exam fees, PLAB 2 academy fees, and visits to the UK.
- Diploma of UK Medical Practice. If your MTI post lasts at least 12 months and is with the Royal College of Physicians or the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, you can apply for the DipUKMP. It costs £750 and helps you develop skills outside of clinical practice including teaching, quality improvement, and clinical governance – all important aspects of working in the NHS.
- Not all posts are paid. As mentioned in the key concepts, some MTI posts require you to secure funding for your training. This can be from a scholarship, or funding from an organisation in your home country including a government agency, hospital or university. You cannot use your own personal funds.
- You may need to pay back the placement fee. If an MTI post has a placement fee which was paid by your employer-to-be, you may be asked to pay this back if you don’t complete the programme.
- It does not count towards ILR or British citizenship. Although the MTI scheme was designed for doctors who want to return home after training, some may see it as an opportunity to trial working in the UK before making a permanent move. This is also a possibility but your 1-2 years on the MTI scheme will not count towards the 5 years required to be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) AKA permanent resident status in the UK or towards becoming a British citizen.
The requirements will differ for each specialty so please read through the relevant websites carefully. Do not assume that what is needed for one Royal College will be the same for another. But to give you an idea, these are the general requirements:
- Prioritisation of specific countries. Tier 5 sponsorship is prioritised for doctors identified as Department for International Development (DFiD) priority countries or are World Bank low income and lower middle income countries. If you are not from one of these countries you can still apply but there will be a significant wait with no guarantee of a place.
- English exam. Most MTI programmes will be satisfied with whatever exam is accepted by the GMC so this means both IELTS and OET are valid.
- Clinical skills and knowledge. Some will require you to sit PLAB, some will accept your specialist qualification from back home, and some will require you to pass at least part 1 of the UK specialist exam, example MRCP part 1. Check the requirements for each MTI scheme.
- Active medical practice. You must have been engaged in active clinical practice for 3 years out of the last 5 years including the past 12 months before you applied for MTI. You must also be active throughout the application process.
- Adequate clinical experience. For the majority of programmes, the minimum is at least 3 years experience including 1 year internship, and 1 year in the specialty you want to work in. Some programs will require more experience than this.
- Intention to return home. You must be able to show that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your MTI programme.
- Personal funds. For your Tier 5 visa you need at least £945 in savings continuously for 90 days before you apply.
- Others: Sponsor forms, application forms, professional references, certificate of good standing, verification of your medical degree through ECFMG, application fee.
Just to emphasise again, all these requirements will be different for each MTI programme. Please read through them carefully before applying.
There are 2 ways to get a job through MTI.
- Apply for an MTI match programme. Some specialties have established programmes that match you to a job. For these, you need to apply and submit all the requirements. If successful, you will then be matched to a suitable job. Matching can take up to 12 months or more.
- Find a job first then apply for MTI. Some specialties do not have a match programme. Instead, you need to search for a job yourself. Once you have been accepted for the job, you then apply for MTI through the Royal College so that you can bypass PLAB and gain GMC registration. You can find jobs on the NHS jobs website or by directly emailing the Consultant you would like to work with.
Some specialties use both methods, some only use one. To find out which method is used by your target specialty, visit the relevant Royal College website and search for their MTI page (links provided below)
2. GMC-approved sponsors outside the MTI scheme
The GMC has a list of organisations that can sponsor IMGs for GMC registration. This is one of the ways you can gain full registration without having to sit PLAB.
Now although these sponsors can help you with GMC registration, they are usually not able to help with visa sponsorship. This is a separate issue which you’ll have to deal with depending on the type of position you are applying for. The visa can be Tier 2 (work visa) or Tier 4 (student visa).
There are multiple types of training offered by the organisations outside of the MTI scheme. They include:
- Hospitals that offer clinical training fellowships
- Universities that offer Masters degrees combined with clinical work
- Scholarships for research
- Scholarships for clinical training
Similar to the MTI scheme, the visas for these jobs are usually for a limited period of time only.
And also similar to the MTI scheme you must have been engaged in active clinical practice for 3 years out of the last 5 years including the past 12 months before applying. You must also be active throughout the application process.
Related: How to find a UK clinical attachment
- Guaranteed training. This is important because it ensures that your time in the UK will actually involve training and you will not be used for service provision.
- Opportunity to attain a higher degree. This can really help to improve your professional portfolio and elevate your standing in the medical field.
- Options for research. A lot of ground-breaking research in numerous medical fields is taking place in the UK and this can be an opportunity for you to be part of it.
- Possibility to bypass PLAB. All these sponsors have been pre-approved by the GMC to help you gain full registration. Many do not require PLAB so check their requirements first to know what other exams they accept.
- Not all posts are paid. You may need to secure your own funding. This can be from a scholarship or funding from an organisation in your home country including a government agency, hospital or university.
- Inconsistent and incomplete information. One of the frustrating things I’ve found about this pathway is that several of the sponsors on the GMC list have little to no information about being a GMC sponsor on their website. For those that do have information, I have included the link in the list below. If there is no link, you will need to contact the individual sponsor directly to see what openings they have.
- Higher degrees are very expensive. If you want to attain a Masters it can cost more than £20,000 just for the course fees alone. You will need to search for scholarships and home funding if you are unable to self-fund.
The list of GMC-approved sponsors that are not part of the MTI scheme has been copied in below. I have searched for the requirements of each one but unfortunately not all sponsors have up-to-date information or the websites are very unclear. You will need to email them individually to get accurate info.
Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Oxford
Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust
Guy’s & St Thomas’ – Pain Management
Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – CPSP International Partnership
Imperial College, London including Emergency Medicine, Intensive Care Medicine and Psychiatry,
Lysholm Dept of Neuroradiology – National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCL
Royal College of Emergency Medicine – Overseas Development Scheme/ Work, Learn and Return
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust
University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust
3. Jobs advertised as fellowships
If you go to the NHS jobs website and search “fellow” you will find hundreds of positions across the UK.
Some of these are genuine fellowships that offer clinical training, however, beware that some of these jobs may only say “fellow” to entice you but in reality these are service jobs and you will not gain any training. At all. Read the job description very carefully.
Related: UK doctor titles 101
- All posts are paid. As these are essentially jobs, all posts will have a salary. You will not need to secure funding.
- No time limits on your visa. These jobs will all use the Tier 2 work visa. This type of visa means that you have the option to stay in the UK as long as you can find another job.
- Counts towards ILR and British citizenship. If you’re unsure about moving to the UK for good but are leaning towards it, then taking this option means your time working in the UK counts towards becoming a permanent UK resident and subsequently a British citizen.
- Some jobs can be converted to an MTI scheme or GMC sponsorship. If you find a post that you like but don’t want to sit PLAB, you may be able to reach out to a GMC-approved sponsor or MTI scheme to have the job converted to an MTI post. This can only be done once you have been accepted for the job.
- Training is not guaranteed. As mentioned, some posts that are advertised on NHS Jobs are not true fellowships. In my experience, “Junior Clinical Fellow” or “Senior Clinical Fellow” jobs are merely fancy terms for service provision. This is not always the case though so I would strongly advise you to read the job description carefully and ask the appropriate questions about training opportunities at interview.
- You probably have to sit PLAB. Passing PLAB is the fastest way to gaining full registration and getting a job through this route. If you are already specialised however, you understandably may not want to sit a general exam like PLAB. In that case you can always aim to gain full GMC registration using a postgraduate qualification on this list.
- Related: Which route to GMC registration is right for you?
- More costly. If you have to sit PLAB or another degree then it will involve several trips to the UK.
- Related: The cost of PLAB & GMC fees + tips on saving money
4. Fish for a fellowship
If there is a specific Consultant who you would like to do a fellowship with or a specific centre that you would like to gain experience at and you can’t find a job opening anywhere, it’s worth sending a direct email to inquire about a possible fellowship.
Be sure to include a well-formatted up-to-date CV and a convincing cover letter about why you want to work with them and how you can be an asset to them as a fellow.
Related: IMG Specialty Guides
- Training is guaranteed. Since you are the one seeking out this fellowship that doesn’t yet exist, you can negotiate the terms of the job including what type of training you’ll receive. How much of your time will be spent performing procedures? How much of your time will be spent on learning NHS management and leadership?
- Choice. If you are able to secure a position through this method, then you will be able to work in the specific place you want to work at, or with the specific Consultant you want to work with.
- You may be able to have the position converted to an MTI scheme or GMC sponsorship. If you are accepted for a position, you may be able to reach out to a GMC-approved sponsor or MTI scheme to have it converted to an MTI post. This will allow you to bypass PLAB.
- There’s no guarantee of a job. Adding a doctor to the team is not that simple because it is not the Consultant that hires you directly. They are not the only ones involved in that decision. It has to be agreed upon by several people in the hospital including other Consultants and management.
- You may need to secure your own funding. Because you are seeking out a position that doesn’t yet exist, the hospital may not have funds set aside for it. You may be asked to obtain funding through a scholarship from your home country.
- Short-term training can be obtained at any level including both junior and senior grades.
- Training is not limited to purely clinical posts. There are opportunities to gain a Diploma or Masters degree and incorporating both clinical work and research.
- Most posts will fund your salary in the UK and some offer a scholarship. Others require you to secure funding from an organisation in your home country.
- Each type of fellowship, scholarship or GMC-sponsorship has their own requirements, timelines, and rules.
- The 4 ways to gain short-term training in the UK are
- Through the Medical Training Initiative (MTI) scheme
- Through a GMC-approved sponsor outside the MTI scheme
- By applying to jobs advertised as fellowships
- Fishing for a fellowship by contacting Consultants and hospitals directly.