You’ve done it! You’ve graduated from medical school after battling through dozens of arduous exams and can now confidently call yourself ‘Doctor’. As it turns out, you can’t learn all of medicine in 5-6 years and it is a constant work in progress. Passing your medical degree is just the entry-level requirement to be able to function as a doctor. To use an analogy from my recent scuba diving course, you have just completed your pool training and have demonstrated a satisfactory level of competence to be able to enter the big blue ocean to continue your development.
Though this is hardly news, some of you may experience that heart sink feeling at the prospect of having to endure more exams. I implore you to view it as a good thing. Medicine is a career with very well described career progression and potential for growth, and postgraduate exams are a measurable way of taking steps towards becoming the doctor that you want to be.
Is the MRCP relevant to me?
MRCP stands for Member of the Royal College of Physicians. It is an accreditation that is required by anyone who intends to pursue medical training (e.g. to eventually become a gastroenterologist) or intensive care medicine. If you do go into medical training, you will be required to complete MRCP Part 1, Part 2 and PACES by the end of your IMT period.
Passing the MRCP or even completing some components of it is rewarded by points in the recruitment process for some other specialties (e.g. anaesthetics) so there are plenty of circumstances in which it is worth doing.
What is the MRCP like?
Part 1 and Part 2 are written exams that, since COVID, has been taken online. From my experience, I found that the content differs slightly between the two exams.
MRCP Part 1 is similar to medical school finals but also tests a relatively large amount of pre-clinical knowledge (e.g. metabolism, genetics). They also tend to ask a handful of questions on medical statistics which can be bewildering to those of you who haven’t heard the words ‘Mann Whitney U’ in a decade.
MRCP Part 2 is significantly more clinical. It has less pre-clinical content compared to Part 1, and the SBAs try to mimic real life clinical scenarios as faithfully as possible. This means that there are very few buzzwords and they rely upon more objective descriptions of patients to test your interpretation of the clinical scenario. Furthermore, there are often cases where the diagnosis can be ambiguous – there may be two or three options that could lead to the scenario in front of you, but you need to make a judgment call about which is most likely based on your understanding of epidemiology and the nature of the presentation.
At the time of writing, I have not sat PACES so will not be able to provide any sort of personal insight into the exam. Having spoken to others that have sat PACES, it involves assessing chronic stable patients with a myriad of clinical signs and answering viva questions on various topics within medicine.
When should I do the MRCP?
There are 3 factors that you should consider when deciding whether to sit the MRCP:
- Do I definitely want to do it?
If yes, then do it as soon as you feasibly can. Some people may not be certain of their long-term career goals and, hence, may want to give it a bit of time to think about whether the MRCP will align with their long-term career goals.
- How long has it been since I graduated from medical school?
Given that there is a reasonable amount of crossover between MRCP and medical school finals, I would recommend sitting the MRCP as early as possible after graduating. This will mean that quite a lot of niche knowledge is still relatively accessible and does not require re-learning.
- Do you have the time and money?
MRCP revision will take quite a bit of time – the amount will depend on how long after graduation you intend on sitting the exam and how much free time you have alongside your fulltime job. As a general rule, I would suggest a minimum of 8 weeks revision. I would advise trialling some SBAs before booking the exam to gauge how much time you feel you would need.
Each part of the written MRCP exam costs £448 and there is no funding available to be able to claim this back (though you can claim the tax back as part of your tax returns). This is another important consideration because £448 is a hefty sum in the context of an F1 or F2 salary.
I’ve decided to sit the MRCP! What now?
Great! Remember that you are sitting this exam with a full medical degree in your locker – you have an extensive knowledge base, some of which may be lying dormant and requires a little stimulation to activate.
I did three things when preparing for the MRCP – SBAs, SBAs and more SBAs.
I managed to come in the top 3% globally in MRCP Part 1 and top 1% in Part 2 and I fully attribute that to the sheer volume of SBAs that I consumed. It meant that, by the time the exam came around, I felt that I had almost seen all the questions before because I would inevitably have come across similar SBAs in my preparation.
I primarily used the Passmedicine and Pastest question banks (not a paid advert!).
If you decide to sit the MRCP, then please do remember to enjoy the experience. Sitting another exam, especially if it has been a while since your last, can be daunting, however, it provides you with a clear goal to work towards. I really enjoyed developing my knowledge base by revising for the MRCP and it has certainly helped me in my clinical work ever since.