USMLE VS PLAB Exploring Differences for Global Doctors | Academically

USMLE VS PLAB- Exploring the Differences for Global Doctors

Jun 11, 2024 4 min read
USMLE VS PLAB Exploring Differences for Global Doctors

Key Takeaways

  • USMLE is the medical licensing examination for global doctors who want to practice residency in the US. 
  • PLAB is the test conducted by the General Medical Council of the UK to give registration to global doctors. 
  • Both USMLE and PLAB are amongst the best exams for career advancements amongst global medical practitioners. 

In the journey towards becoming a licensed medical practitioner overseas, one crucial decision for many aspiring doctors is choosing between the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test. Both serve as gateways to practising medicine in their respective countries, but they differ in various aspects, from difficulty levels to future prospects. However, making the choice for global doctors becomes difficult if they lack adequate knowledge. 

In this blog, we will discuss several facets of both USMLE and PLAB to help you understand which one is the better option for you. Let's delve into the details to help you make an informed decision.

What is USMLE?

The USMLE is a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. It assesses a physician's ability to apply knowledge, concepts, and principles and to demonstrate fundamental patient-centred skills. The three steps of the USMLE include:

  1. Step 1: Tests basic science knowledge.
  2. Step 2: Consists of two sub-components:
    1. Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge): Evaluates clinical knowledge and its application.
    2. Step 2 CS (Clinical Skills): Tests clinical skills and patient communication.
  3. Step 3: Focuses on assessing whether you can apply medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science necessary for the unsupervised practice of medicine.

The USMLE is a pathway for global doctors to pursue residency in the USA, post which they can become registered practitioners. Clearing USMLE Step 1 and 2 allows doctors to practice in the USA and get a provisional visa while clearing Step 3 opens the doors for complete registration. 

In simple words, international medical graduates who want to practise medicine in the US need to go through the USMLE Steps 1, 2 and 3

USMLE Exam Preparation Course

What is PLAB?

The PLAB test is the primary route for international medical graduates (IMGs) to demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. It consists of two parts:

  1. PLAB 1: An objective-type written exam assessing medical knowledge and understanding relevant to clinical practice in the UK.
  2. PLAB 2: A practical assessment of clinical skills and communication abilities, including history-taking, physical examination, and communication with patients.

So basically, the PLAB exam is the pathway for global doctors to set up practice in the UK. 

PLAB Exam Preparation Course

Illustrating the Differences

Here’s a comparison between the two exams based on several factors. 

Level of Difficulty

USMLE: Known for its rigorous and comprehensive assessment of medical knowledge and skills, the USMLE is often considered challenging due to its detailed examination of basic and clinical sciences.

PLAB: While PLAB is also rigorous, some argue that it may be comparatively less challenging than USMLE due to its focus on practical clinical skills rather than in-depth basic science knowledge.

Differences in Process and Steps

USMLE: Comprises three steps, each focusing on different aspects of medical knowledge and practice, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of a physician's abilities.

PLAB: Consists of two parts, with PLAB 1 testing theoretical knowledge and PLAB 2 assessing practical clinical skills.

Time Involved

USMLE: The entire process of completing all three steps of the USMLE can take several years, depending on individual preparation and scheduling.

PLAB: The PLAB process might be relatively shorter, as it consists of two parts, but the overall duration still varies depending on individual preparation and exam availability.

Cost Involved

USMLE: Preparation materials, exam fees, and potentially costly review courses contribute to the financial burden associated with the USMLE. The total cost of taking the exam, involving the exam fee and other minor expenses, is around USD 3,000, or INR 2.5 Lakh (for all 3 steps)

PLAB: While still requiring financial investment for preparation materials and exam fees, some argue that the overall cost of preparing for PLAB might be lower than that of the USMLE. The total cost involved in the 2 PLAB papers is around GBP 1,500 or INR 1.5 Lakh. 

Future Prospects

USMLE: Achieving success in the USMLE can open doors to a wide range of opportunities in the United States, including residency programs in various specialties.

PLAB: Success in the PLAB test allows entry into the UK healthcare system, providing opportunities for training and practice within the National Health Service (NHS) or in other healthcare settings in the UK.

The table below illustrates the major points of difference between USMLE and PLAB. 




Residency (higher studies+ possible registration) in the USA

Registration with the General Medical Council of the UK


Consists of 3 steps- USMLE Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. 

Consists of 2 steps- PLAB 1 and PLAB 2

Cost Involved

USD 3,000, or INR 2.5 Lakh

GBP 1,500 or INR 1.5 Lakh

Future Career Prospects

  • Average Salary- USD 230,000 (1.9 Crore INR)
  • High demand for professional doctors
  • Better pay for public sector doctors
  • Annual Salary- GBP 45,000 (50 Lakh INR)
  • Shortage of staff but still no hiring due to poor economy
  • Working conditions and quality of life unsatisfactory

Current Scenario- A Decisive Factor

Before you form your final decision, let us have a look at the current work scenario for doctors in both these countries, as of 2024. 

The demand and opportunities for doctors is high as always in the US. There is a shortage, calling for skilled workers and offering them good jobs if they clear the USMLE. The pay is generous, higher than most countries of the world, and the working conditions along with the work-life balance are sumptuous. 

On the other hand, the work environment in UK, which used to be top-notch just a few years back isn’t the same today. There shortage of doctors, but no professional is ready to work there. Even the doctors from UK are seeking opportunities in other countries, due to the lack of a good work-life balance. Doctors are expected to work in long shifts with a dissatisfactory pay and poor conditions. 

Therefore, before making a migration decision, do your research properly and decide which country you would like to set up your practice in. 

Parting Thoughts

In conclusion, both the USMLE and PLAB serve as essential pathways for medical licensure, each with its unique challenges and opportunities. Understanding the differences between them and aligning your choice with your career aspirations is key to making the right decision for your future in medicine.

Whether you choose USMLE or PLAB, or yet another alternative- AMC, we are here to help you with your preparation with our meticulously designed preparation courses. Get in touch with our experts today to know more!

Fill up this form for a free one on one counselling session. 


Q- Is USMLE accepted in the UK?

Ans- Yes, you can get registered with UK’s GMC without taking the PLAB test, if you have already cleared USMLE.

Q- Who can take the PLAB exam?

Ans- Any MBBS or other degree holder (medical graduate) who is a registered doctor in any country of the world can take the PLAB exam.

Q- Which country pays better to doctors- the USA or the UK?

Ans- The average salary of doctors in USA is USD 230,000 (1.9 Crore INR) and the average salary of doctors in the UK is GBP 45,000 (50 Lakh INR).

Q- Can PLAB-1 be taken in India?

Ans- Yes, you can take your PLAB-1 exam in India, by booking a slot in your nearest testing centre.

Sheenu Sharma
Sheenu Sharma
about the author

Sheenu Sharma is a seasoned writer with several years of experience curating content in the EdTech and healthcare sectors. She believes in delivering information and facts to the readers by crafting compelling stories. Through the platform of Academically, she aims to help global healthcare professionals in their career aspirations and dreams!