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Information for overseas doctors

Structure of medical training in the UK

All doctors must have a licence in order to legally practise medicine and undertake activities restricted by law to doctors, such as writing prescriptions and signing death certificates. The licence to practise which is issued by the General Medical Council (GMC), applies to all doctors in the UK regardless of whether they are working in the NHS or independent sector, either on a full or part time, permanent or locum basis. It also applies to all levels of registration, whether provisional, full or on the specialist or general practitioner (GP) register.

All doctors intending to practise medicine in the UK are still required to be registered with the GMC, follow the GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance and be subject to the GMC Fitness to Practise actions. Doctors who hold registration but not a licence are more likely to be working as an academic or outside the UK, for example, but cannot undertake any of the activities for which the law requires them to hold a licence to practise.

Please note that doctors who have never been registered with the GMC will have to apply for a licence to practise. They will not be able to apply for registration without a licence.

The requirements for registration in the UK will depend on a number of factors:

  • your nationality
  • the country in which you gained your primary medical qualification
  • the type of work you want to do
  • whether or not you have completed a period of post-graduate training or an internship

First you should check that you possess an acceptable primary medical qualification to apply for registration. If you are in any doubt you should check your qualifications status with the GMC.

In addition, international medical graduates (IMGs) will be required to demonstrate their medical knowledge and skills, competence of English language, and fitness to practise before they are registered. NHS Employers has published a helpful guide for IMGs on their website.

Registration with the GMC does not guarantee that you will find employment within the UK.

If you are not a UK/EEA national you will also need to meet the requirements of the UK Border Agency regulations to gain the right to enter and work in UK.

All UK medical graduates are required to undertake a 2-year Foundation Programme immediately following graduation. The Foundation Programme forms the bridge between medical school and specialist/general practice training. Trainees will have the opportunity to gain experience in a series of placements in a variety of specialties and healthcare settings.

The first year (F1) is the internship year where doctors are required to work under provisional registration with the GMC.

Once doctors have completed the Foundation Programme, they may apply for a specialty or general practice training programme. 

Further details are available on the Modernising Medical Careers website 

Types of Registration

Provisional Registration – Provisional registration (alongside a licence to practise) allows newly qualified doctors to undertake general clinical training required for full registration. This allows doctors to work only in Foundation Year 1 posts.

Provisional registration is available to doctors with the following nationality, rights and qualifications:

  • UK medical graduates who have completed their medical degree at a UK University recognised in the Medical Act 1983
  • International medical graduates who have an acceptable primary medical qualification and who have passed the PLAB test but who have not completed an internship
  • Nationals from the EEA, Switzerland and other countries with EC rights who qualified outside of the EEA and Switzerland
  • Nationals from the EEA, Switzerland and doctors who have EC rights who qualified at EEA or Swiss medical schools
  • Doctors who have qualified in an EEA member state can apply to do their practical training (internship) in the UK if the practical training counts towards a medical degree which requires this for compliance with Directive 2005/36/EC

Full Registration – Full registration enables doctors to work in any form of professional medical practice in the UK, provided they hold a licence to practise. Doctors must, however, also hold specialist registration to take up a consultant post (other than a locum consultant post); and those wishing to work as GPs must be on the GP register.

Doctors qualifying from outside the UK may be eligible to apply directly for full registration if they hold an acceptable primary medical qualification and have completed a period of postgraduate clinical experience (internship).
A doctor will need to provide documentary evidence to support their application. Only original documents can be accepted. To complete the process all doctors must visit the GMC in person to undergo a pre-registration identity check. A photograph of the doctor will be taken and this will be made available to employers so they can be assured of the doctor's identity.

UK graduates and IMGs who are new to full registration and taking up a new job, or restoring their names to the register after a prolonged absence from practice, are required to work within an approved practice setting (APS) as assessed by the GMC as suitable for doctors new to full registration. The GMC recommends that EEA graduates ensure that they also work in an APS when they first take up employment in the UK under full registration.

The purpose of the APS system is to provide public protection by requiring doctors new, or returning, to full registration in the UK to work within a system with appropriate supervision and appraisal arrangements or assessments. Further information on APS can be found on the GMC website.

Specialist registration – All consultants (other than a locum consultant appointment) must be on the specialist register of the General Medical Council (GMC). To be eligible to apply for specialist registration with the GMC, doctors must have successfully completed a GMC-approved training programme and been granted one of the following certificates:

  • Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT)
  • Certificate confirming Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR)

Doctors who have not completed a full GMC-approved training programme and wish to have their training, qualifications and experience assessed for eligibility for entry onto the specialist register must make an application under The General and Specialist Medical Practice Order for a CESR. It is not possible to hold specialist registration without also holding full registration.

GP Registration – Since 1 April 2006, all doctors working in general practice in the NHS in the UK (other than doctors in training such as GP registrars) are required to be on the GP Register. This requirement extends to locums.

If you have not completed the UK GP Certificate of Completion of Training programme you will need to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for General Practice Registration (CEGPR), which will then enable you to be entered on the GP Register.

English Language Proficiency

Non-EEA applicants applying for registration must satisfy the GMC that they have the necessary knowledge of English. Candidates will be required to prove that they have taken the academic version of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test and achieved minimum scores of 7.0 in each of the four areas: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB)

The GMC uses the PLAB test to ensure that international doctors have the basic medical competence and communication skills to practise in the UK. Doctors wishing to take the PLAB test must have already successfully completed the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Currently the minimum IELTS scores that are accepted in the academic version are 7.0 in speaking, 6.0 in each of the other three areas tested (reading, writing and listening), and an overall band score of 7.0.

From 1 October 2010, the GMC is changing the minimum IELTS scores and candidates will need to achieve a minimum score of 7.0 in all four areas of speaking, listening, reading and writing before they can take the PLAB test. However, the GMC will continue to accept the current IELTS scores for the PLAB test from all doctors who have, before 1 October 2010, done one of the following:

  • booked a PLAB Part 1 test place
  • passed PLAB Part 1
  • booked a PLAB Part 2 test place
  • passed Part 2
  • applied for registration.

The first part of the PLAB test can be taken at a number of test centres overseas, but the second part must be taken in the UK. Further details about the PLAB test, including dates, test centres and costs, can be obtained from the GMC or by visiting their website.

Deciding which type of registration is right for you

Information on the GMC website about applying to join the register will help you to assess the type of registration you may be eligible to apply for.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click here to access the most frequently asked questions.