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Comparison Between USMLE and PLAB

Hi, my name is Gaurang Suhagiya. I am an IMG from India. I am going to take my PLAB 1 in August this year and will take USMLE step 1 as well within a month after PLAB.

In this blog post, I will delve into the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) and PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board). As an aspiring medical professional considering practicing in the United States or the United Kingdom, it’s important to weigh the various factors involved in this life-changing decision.

In this blog, I will discuss about the following topics:

- Examination Structure

- Lifestyle of Doctors

- Weighing the pros and cons

- Things to consider when choosing between USMLE and PLAB

Examination Structure

The USMLE is a three-step examination that is vital for medical licensure in the United States. The initial step assesses the knowledge of basic science principles through a multiple-choice exam. Step 2CK evaluates the candidate’s clinical knowledge. Step 3, the final exam, focuses on patient management and is usually taken during the first year of residency.

Whereas the PLAB exam is a two-part process. Part 1 is a written exam that employs multiple-choice questions based on clinical scenarios. Part 2 is an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) that tests clinical examination skills in a controlled environment.

PLAB is a licensing exam and USMLE is a gateway to residency, which is equivalent to MRCP/MRCS in the UK. Therefore, PLAB is a much easier exam to pass and requires less time for preparation in comparison to USMLE.

Lifestyle of Doctors:

In the United States, doctors often work lengthy hours, particularly during residency, with 80-hour work weeks being common. However, they generally have higher incomes compared to those in the UK. The potential for career growth and specialization is abundant, and the US medical education system is globally recognized.

In contrast, Physicians in the United Kingdom enjoy a better work-life balance owing to shorter working hours compared to the US. However, they typically earn less. The UK has a more comprehensive social welfare system and offers physicians the opportunity to work within the National Health Service (NHS). Moreover, the cost of education is considerably lower in the UK, though the cost of living varies by region.

Weighing the pros and cons:

The USMLE and PLAB, both medical licensing exams, have distinct advantages and drawbacks. The USMLE opens doors to high income potential, numerous specialization and research opportunities but comes with downsides such as long working hours, a lengthy and potentially expensive examination process, and high costs for education and living.

On the other hand, the PLAB offers a shorter and less costly examination process, an easier route to enter in the UK as a doctor and a better work-life balance, but is associated with lower income, limited availability in some specializations, and a less adaptable training structure.

Things to consider when choosing between USMLE and PLAB:

When deciding between the USMLE and PLAB, aspiring doctors should consider not just the examination structures but also the lifestyles, opportunities, and challenges associated with practicing medicine in each country. Factors such as personal preferences, financial considerations, and career aspirations are important in making an informed decision.

Need more tips and advice?

If you have any questions about either of PLAB and USMLE pathways, I would be happy to answer them at You can register using this link. You can find me as an ambassador and follow my profile- Gaurang Suhagiya- to receive regular support and guidance about various topics.

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