Becoming a Physician: USMLE vs. PLAB

For those wishing to become a professional physician, there are many choices and steps to take in the process. Eventually, all interns will need to go through an extensive licensing process in order to begin practicing medicine, whether it’s on their own or with a group or a hospital.

Eight years of intense schooling is a huge part of what it takes to become a doctor. This includes but is not limited to securing an internship at a local hospital. Knowing which path to choose when taken your official medical licensing exam is critical to your career path as a physician, and there are many pros and cons you should take good note of in the process.

There are two types of medical licensing exams that interns and medical students must choose from. One is the USMLE, or the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which is a three-part comprehensive medical licensing exam that lasts anywhere from 3 to 5 years. The first part lasts roughly 8 hours, with each section of the exam taking approximately one hour to complete in a classroom setting. It is designed to test the student's knowledge of the general curriculum in as much as 280 questions. You will be tested on anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, behavioral sciences, and many other related subjects. The exam also includes topics on gerontology, or aging, and several other factors as they relate to the field in which the student will be practicing. You are also expected to have a sound working knowledge of epidemiology, biostatistics, pharmacology, and be familiar with the pathology of the disease.

Your second part will consist of clinical medicine with questions surrounding organ functioning, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, and the ways that normal and abnormal organs will function. The student is expected to know a wide variety of the systems of the human anatomy, from male/female reproductive functioning to pregnancy and childbirth. You will be expected to know the various workings of the musculoskeletal system and the ways that the human heart operates inside the body as a vital organ.

The third and final step lasts for a period of two days and has a total of 413 questions. There are one-hour segments in which you take the exam, with breaks in between. On the first day, there are 233 questions to be answered within seven hours while the final part has only about 180 questions plus real-life patient scenarios designed to help you gain more experience during the exam process.

Successful completion of the USMLE allows medical school graduates to apply for residency right away. The ability to pass it helps each student get their foot in the door when it comes to employment as a new doctor. However, the exam itself is very costly, ranging anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, and may require students from overseas to come to the United States just to take it. If you factor in the high cost of travel along with the testing fees, it comes as no surprise that this exam is extremely expensive but well worth it. Plus, if you consider that the exam allows students worldwide the opportunity to practice medicine within the United States, this presents a brand new world of golden opportunities.

The training that you'll receive as a major part of the process compares starkly to other types of medical licensing exams, such as the PLAB, which stands for the Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board exam. Unlike the USMLE, however, the PLAB is based out of the United Kingdom and is not always required for all graduates inside the country, but is a requirement for those who come into the UK seeking residency at a hospital.

The PLAB is much shorter than the USMLE in that it has only two consecutive parts that are required for passing. The first part consists of a series of multiple-choice questions that target real-life scenarios that ask the student about best medical practices when dealing with patients. The second half has a more scientific vibe in that it targets concrete clinical knowledge and is covered in a total of 18 separate parts.
The topics are far more hands-on than what is covered in the USMLE and students will be asked to record and update patient information, give physicals, record the results of the physicals, and interpret them. From there, participants will be asked to discuss these results with the patient in question, and from there they will learn how to diagnose a condition or an illness and assess the proper treatment. Treatment planning that is done with the patient is covered in this portion of the test before moving on.

The good news about the PLAB exam is that it is way cheaper than the USMLE, which totals at around $1,030. This compares starkly to the fees for the USMLE, which ranges anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000. This may make it much easier and less expensive to take, but the only stipulation is its poor credibility and the mere fact that the exam cannot allow for students to become licensed in the United States.
Deciding on which exam to take rests upon where you decide you want to practice medicine and what your finances look like after finishing med school. The USMLE grants many benefits to its students upon passing, which includes access to the latest in research and disease information. Plus, students who have taken the exam will have plenty of opportunities to broaden their medical horizons and gain experience in the medical field of their choice by participating in a variety of important clinical research projects designed to expand their knowledge base in the profession.

There are ways that students can prepare for each exam online. The USMLE has options for study, including a practice exam that gives students a chance to check their knowledge, mark off what they don't know, and come back and try again. Plus, you can get an idea as to what might be expected for each exam. There are even USMLE online courses that you can opt for to prepare for USMLE in full-fledged mode. Keep in mind the various pros and cons regarding each exam type prior to making your first attempt at a medical license.