The Savvy IMG

Is PLAB & GMC registration still worth it for IMGs?

Explores whether pursuing PLAB/UKMLA and GMC registration is still a viable option for IMGs amidst challenges like inflation, NHS doctor strikes, and job "saturation". Delves into the pros and cons of the UK medical career pathway, including financial considerations, work environment, and opportunities for professional growth.

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A close-up photo of a map focusing on the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a red pushpin marking a location on the eastern part of England, near the North Sea.

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I know that many of us dream of pursuing a medical career in the United Kingdom (UK), but it’s natural to wonder if it’s still a viable option. Especially with what’s going on these days (strikes and cost of living crisis anyone?), is it still worth aiming for PLAB/UKMLA and GMC registration? Or should you go for the USMLE or AMC?

Here’s the thing – every career pathway has its own pros and cons. That’s why it’s crucial to consider your own individual circumstances before making a decision. The answer will be different for each of us.

So, let’s dive into the factors and insights that will help you decide whether it’s still worth it to pursue a medical career in the UK.

Why IMGs May Be Hesitant About the PLAB Journey

Let’s discuss some of the major concerns that IMGs have about moving to the UK.

Inflation and Increased Cost of Living in the UK

The inflation rate in the UK the past year has been at an all time high. With a higher demand for oil and gas post-lockdown, and the effects of the war in Ukraine on supply chains, the price of goods and services have soared.

Many of us have struggled with increased living costs such as gas and electricity bills, food, and mortgage payments. We even have GMC registration fees and exams to consider as well.

As inflation continues to impact economies globally, it’s essential to consider how this might affect your financial situation. Higher costs for accommodation, transportation, and daily expenses can place a strain on your budget for PLAB or other exams like MRCP or MRCS.

But rather than looking at this in isolation though, compare it to your current situation, and also to the possible situation in other countries. Each country will have its own problems with inflation and costs, but where has the greatest potential for improvement?

Repeated NHS Doctor Strikes

Another worry you might have is the occurrence of repeated strikes among doctors working in the NHS. While strikes over pay can be concerning, ultimately, these strikes will result in improved working conditions and better overall job satisfaction which can only be a good thing for IMGs.

I would look at these strikes as a positive sign that doctors are able to take action to improve their pay and working conditions, something that doctors in other countries may not be able to do.

Consider where you are now, if there is something not right about your hours or pay, can you do something about it? If doctors cannot improve their working conditions, they will ultimately leave – which may be why you’re considering the UK in the first place.

Low Pay of Doctors in the UK Compared to the US and Australia

Comparisons between the pay of doctors in the UK, the United States (US), and Australia may contribute to hesitation among IMGs.

It’s true that the pay scale for doctors in the UK is generally lower compared to these countries. However, there are several benefits of the UK system for IMGs compared to the US and Australia. These include:

  • Lower cost of exams
  • Higher exam pass rates for GMC registration
  • Straightforward route to citizenship
  • Maternity pay and maternity leave during training without the prospect of being removed from the programme
  • Equal opportunity to enter specialty training compared to local graduates, and
  • The opportunity to work in a paid position even if you’re unsuccessful with an application to training

Of course, these are just some factors to consider.

Job Saturation

One matter often discussed among IMGs is the perception of job saturation in the NHS. To be honest, this has been cited as a “problem” for the past 20 years and doesn’t seem like it will ever go away.

While some individuals express difficulties in securing their first job in the NHS, let’s consider a couple of facts.

  • Online discussions tend to highlight challenges rather than successes, as people often turn to social media for help or to vent frustrations.
  • Those who have found jobs may be busy or prefer to keep their achievements private.
  • And of course, the term “saturation” implies that all jobs are taken up or that there are few jobs available, which is not the case. There are numerous job vacancies being posted on any given day, but the competition is high.

It’s necessary to remember that landing a job in a relatively short period is still possible. Proper preparation, continuous improvement of your CV, and persistence are key factors. Tailor your CV to highlight your skills and experiences, seek professional guidance, and engage in continuous learning. This should all be done alongside preparing for PLAB or other exams, and pursuing GMC registration.

It’s also important to mention, that if you don’t succeed in getting into a training position in the UK, you can still work as a paid doctor, something not possible on the USMLE route. This might be an important factor for those who need to support their families.

How Should You Make Your Decision?

Each IMGs journey is unique. We all have our unique circumstances, goals, and aspirations. That’s why you need to evaluate your options based on our own situation, and not look to others to see what they’re doing. After all, what works for someone else may not be the best fit for you.

To help you navigate the complexities of pursuing a career in the UK, this guide poses a series of reflective questions designed to facilitate a thoughtful decision-making process. Each question aims to highlight critical aspects of professional and personal life that could be impacted by such a decision.

If you don’t know the answer to some of the questions, then it’s a sign that you need to do some research in that area!

Professional Goals and Career Aspirations

  • How do my long-term professional goals align with the opportunities available in my home country, the UK, and other potential destinations?
  • Are there specific medical specialties or fields of interest that are more recognised or supported in one country over the others?
  • How mobile are the qualifications? Can I migrate and practice elsewhere without having to repeat training?

Qualification and Registration Process

  • What are the specific requirements for medical registration in each country, including examinations and language proficiency?
  • How do the time and financial investments required for qualification compare across these countries?

Work Environment and Lifestyle

  • How do the typical working hours, expectations, and work-life balance in each country fit with my personal lifestyle preferences?
  • What are the policies regarding part-time work, especially during the initial years of training or for those with family commitments?

Financial Considerations and Support

  • How do the salary scales, taxation, and living costs in each country affect my ability to be financially independent and support my family?
  • What are the provisions for maternity leave and pay during training in each country, and how does this impact my career planning?

Cultural Integration and Social Support

  • What challenges might I face in terms of cultural adaptation in each country, and what support systems are available to help with this transition?
  • How welcoming are these countries to international medical professionals, and what communities or networks exist for support?

Opportunities for Professional Growth

  • How fierce is the competition for training positions?
  • Are IMGs at any disadvantage when applying to training posts, and can these be overcome?
  • What are the prospects after completing training?
  • If unsuccessful in securing a training position, what alternative job opportunities are available in each country? Can I still work within the medical field?

Family and Personal Life Considerations

  • What will childcare look like in each country? What will it cost and what kind of care is available?
  • What are the prospects for permanent residency or citizenship? How long will it take, and how much will it cost?
  • How do immigration policies facilitate bringing over dependents or parents?

Stability and Future Prospects

  • How stable is the job market for healthcare professionals in each country, and what are the long-term career prospects for IMGs?
  • How easy is it to obtain permanent residency or citizenship in each country, and what are the key differences in the eligibility criteria?

Special Considerations for IMGs

  • How are IMGs integrated into the healthcare workforce in each country, and what systems are in place to support their professional development?
  • Are there specific barriers or challenges that IMGs face in each country, such as language barriers, credential recognition, or cultural integration in the workplace?

So is PLAB and GMC registration still worth it for IMGs?

If you’re looking for a yes or no answer, then I’m afraid I don’t have one. Unfortunately, that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In some cases it may be worth it, and in other cases it may not.

To make that decision, you’ll need to answer these questions and figure out what the answer is for you.

And if you don’t have time to answer all those questions, here’s what it all boils down to:

  1. What do you want to get out of your career and your life? What would make you happy and fulfilled?
  2. What will it take to achieve that vision in your home country, and what are the chances success?
  3. What will it take to achieve that vision in the UK, and what are the chances success?
  4. What will it take to achieve that vision in XYZ country, and what are the chances success?

If you can answer these 4 questions, you will have a good idea of whether the UK is still worth it for you. 

Let us know in the comments what you discovered!

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Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.


Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.


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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
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