Predicting fitness to practise events in international medical graduates who registered as UK doctors via the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) system: a national cohort study

Paul Alexander Tiffin, Lewis William Paton, Lazaro Mwakesi Mwandigha, John C McLachlan, Jan Illing

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Background: International medical graduates working in the UK are more likely to be censured in relation to fitness to practise compared to home graduates. Performance on the General Medical Council's (GMC's) Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) tests and English fluency have previously been shown to predict later educational performance in this group of doctors. It is unknown whether the PLAB system is also a valid predictor of unprofessional behaviour and malpractice. The findings would have implications for regulatory policy. Methods: This was an observational study linking data relating to fitness to practise events (referral or censure), PLAB performance, demographic variables and English language competence, as evaluated via the International English Language Test System (IELTS). Data from 27,330 international medical graduates registered with the GMC were analysed, including 210 doctors who had been sanctioned in relation to at least one fitness to practise issue. The main outcome was risk of eventual censure (including a warning). Results: The significant univariable educational predictors of eventual censure (versus no censures or referrals) were lower PLAB part 1 (hazard ratio [HR], 0.99; 95% confidence interval, 0.98 to 1.00) and part 2 scores (HR, 0.94; 0.91 to 0.97) at first sitting, multiple attempts at both parts of the PLAB, lower IELTS reading (HR, 0.79; 0.65 to 0.94) and listening scores (HR, 0.76; 0.62 to 0.93) and higher IELTS speaking scores (HR, 1.28; 1.04 to 1.57). Multiple resits at either part of the PLAB and higher IELTS speaking score (HR, 1.49; 1.20 to 1.84) were also independent predictors of censure. We estimated that the proposed limit of four attempts at both parts of the PLAB would reduce the risk in this entire group by only approximately two censures per 5 years in this group of doctors. Conclusions: Making the PLAB, or any replacement assessment, more stringent and raising the required standards of English reading and listening may result in fewer fitness to practice events in international medical graduates. However, the number of PLAB resits permitted would have to be further capped to meaningfully impact the risk of sanctions in this group of doctors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number66
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

©The Author(s). 2017


  • Fitness to practise
  • International medical graduates
  • Medical regulation
  • Professionalism
  • Professional Misconduct/statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Clinical Competence/standards
  • Certification/standards
  • Linguistics
  • Female
  • Physicians/standards
  • Emigrants and Immigrants
  • Cohort Studies

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