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How I Passed my PLAB 2 Exam: Dr Sunandan Banerjee

If you are a doctor preparing for your GMC PLAB 2 exam, this this blog is a must to help you pass. We are lucky to have Dr Sunandan Banerjee – an IMG (International Medical Graduate) doctor who recently passed his PLAB 2 – share his experience of how he prepared and passed…  

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A brief introduction

Hello, I am Sunandan from India and I graduated in the year 2018. I have one-year post graduate experience of working in psychiatry in India, and I’m currently preparing for the MSRA exam while working towards securing a place in core psychiatry training pathway in the UK. 

My PLAB journey

I decided in August 2020 to take the PLAB examination and cleared PLAB 1 in February 2021. Following travel restrictions due to the pandemic, I was able to get a PLAB 2 date for a year later in January 2022. I had a minor setback when my exam was canceled due to the Omicron Covid surge, but I was lucky enough to be provided a seat in February 2022 by the GMC – due to the fact that I was already in the UK when the cancellation was announced. I got my PLAB 2 results three weeks after my exam (I should say three very anxiety laden weeks interspersed with bouts of panic), and managed to secure a score of 114, where a minimum of 101 was required. To be honest, I have never quite felt relief like I did when I got my ‘pass’ result!

Preparing for PLAB 2

There are a few questions that I frequently see from those preparing for PLAB 2 – myself included – about the journey to the UK for the PLAB exam. Although there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answers to them, I will try here to discuss as many perspectives as I can, in order for anyone reading this to make a well-informed plan that best suits them. 

I can not stress enough the importance of tailoring your own method – it is very important to make your own plans for preparation, have your own style of communication, have your own approach to history-taking, and so on. 

One of the commonest questions is about the choice of PLAB 2 academy to help with preparation. Most academies cost around £600 – quite a bit of money to be invested. I did a lot of research as to whether it would be possible to prepare for PLAB 2 without an academy, and, although I had attended an academy myself, I now feel that it could have been possible without having booked a course. But once again, this is an individual choice. My thought process at the time was – if I am spending so much money on the exam, flight tickets, accommodation etc, I might as well book a course as I would not want a sense of regret that I hadn’t done enough for preparation. I also tend to be an anxious person at times, which was another major driving factor. 

Having said that, there are plenty of free resources available on YouTube (check our Dr Arora’s PLAB 2 videos), blogs, podcasts etc that are more than sufficient to prepare – but despite this if you decide to book an academy only for the sake of calming your nerves, I would say it is still worth it! Anxiety is one of the major obstacles of this exam, and one which becomes more important in the final week when you start questioning whether you have tried every possible resource!

The second thing that doctors often ask is a) how much time is needed on studying and b) how much time is needed on practicing stations with their study partners. From my experience, both are equally important for preparation and once you start preparing, you understand how to divide your time between each. 

Towards the end, as I got more and more acquainted with the communication skills that Dr. Aman Arora talks about, I felt confident about this aspect – and I subsequently spent more of my time studying so that I could increase the information which I could share with my patients. Alternatively, there are others who I prepared with that had a lot of clinical knowledge, but had to work more on how to communicate this information to the patient in a relevant and patient-centered way – so it is important to plan out your own way and to recognise that there is no one right way to prepare. 

Remember, PLAB 2 is not an assessment purely of the amount of knowledge you have, so don’t invest all of your time simply retaining facts – instead it would be a better idea to practice communicating the facts you already know (for this Dr. Aman Arora’s resources were a huge help). The audios in particular were helpful in the way that when you do not feel like doing anything else and get quite frustrated, you can simply listen to the audiobooks and understand how to share medical information in a simple way. If you do listen to the audios, remember to practice the concepts the next time you are doing stations with a friend.  

Other key things that I learned

Apart from the above two questions that inadvertently come to anyone’s mind whilst preparing for PLAB 2, I just wanted to share a few things that I learned and adopted into my preparation, which helped quite a lot during the exam

1) Optimum eye contact is a key factor: do not stare, but also do not keep looking away out of awkwardness. Try and maintain a level of eye contact with the role player that demonstrates you are genuinely trying to help this person through whatever is bothering them at the moment. It is tempting to look down at the question on the table to feel reassured that you are not missing out on anything, but doing this too often can interrupt your thought process – particularly in data gathering. Through practice I realised that maintaining eye contact actually made me a better listener, and I was actually able to retain more information from what the role player had to say. This is something that was pointed out at Dr Aman’s Live role-play course, and it made a huge difference.

2) When you formulate your management plan, every question that you ask the role player whilst data gathering becomes a potential point that could be elaborated on. Dr. Arora explains about dividing your data gathering into 3 main ‘bubbles’ of red flags, psychosocial and ICE – which was very helpful in this regard. So when I would come to my management plan, I would remember that addressing the medical issue is just management of the red flags. But I have also gathered data about psychosocial history, so my management should also include lifestyle and related advice where relevant. Similarly, I have also asked the Ideas, Concerns and Expectations of the patient – points that I need to include in my management in order to make the patient feel that these are addressed properly.

3) It is important to be thorough with clinical examination and mannequin stations as there will definitely be a couple of these in your exam. Remember also to check the room to see if there are any mannequins, so you can manage your time properly including appropriate examinations. Although this is good advice which I was given myself, at the time of the exam I was so nervous that I missed out on doing a DRE as I had not noticed the mannequin – and ultimately failed that station. As a side point, If such a thing does happen during the exam, the best thing to do is not give any thought and try to focus on giving your best again in the next station. 

4) I’d suggest avoiding having a planned or formulaic approach to each different type of station, as forgetting even a single thing in the plan can lead to you becoming nervous and fumbling during the station. A more helpful approach would be to consider every station as a similar situation where you aim to achieve a specific outcome. In data gathering, actually gather information about whatever is happening – something which varies in each case. For example there may be a need to understand the patient’s medical history in a hospital setting, knowing the patient’s support system in breaking bad news, finding out if a colleague has stressors in a colleague situation, knowing the reason for a patient’s restlessness and agitation when they are demanding something etc. In management, discuss with the person what would be the best approach from this point on – for example, clinical management of a condition, offering support for someone who needs this, discussing the pros and cons of a test that a patient is demanding, helping a colleague understand how to avoid any mistakes in the future etc. Trying to have a ‘formula’ for every possible type of situation is impossible. 

5) Always openly discuss whatever you are thinking. In my home country the approach is more doctor-centric, where a doctor gives advice based on the best available evidence that would help the patient. In the UK it is a more patient-centric approach, where the doctor gives the best advice after taking into consideration what would be the most ideal situation for this patient, considering all appropriate factors eg their lifestyle, nature of job, their own thoughts etc. The management should always be about having a discussion with the patient to see that they are comfortable with the plan being made for them. 

6) I wrote earlier about always having a personalised approach and I will explain why that is so important. During the preparation phase, however much we learn and however much we practice, on the day of the exam when you actually have to face the station, you usually tend to talk and behave in the way that you usually would in a clinic setting when at work. So try not to change your style completely based on some other person or scripts, or based on some stock phrases that you think you must incorporate. Instead, maintain the style that you always do in the clinic, and gradually introduce a few modifications naturally, which you feel will make the patient feel more at ease. Do this instead of placing phrases that you have learnt at random – something that usually seems unnatural. 

7) “Do not stress too much” would probably be the most cliched advice you will ever hear, and one of the most difficult things to follow considering the amount of investment and how much you have at stake – but it is important to regularly remind yourself of this, especially during the preparation phase. Take some time off and visit places in the UK while you are there  – find things to take your mind off things in between preparation. Remember that the GMC says the exam is just another day at the clinic – and you do not prepare for a regular day of clinics by spending day in and day out studying. Preparation should be a gradual process and you learn things as you keep practicing, so trust the process. 

8) Prepare well and give yourself adequate time. I had initially taken 4 weeks to prepare but my exams got delayed and 2 weeks were lost due to me losing interest and motivation. I did however have an extra 3 weeks due to the delay which did help. Overall I feel around 4-6 weeks is enough time to prepare but I feel it can also be done in less time as well.

Clinical Attachments

Some people also arrive in the UK and do a clinical attachment before they take their PLAB 2 exam, while some choose to do it after their exam while waiting for their result. I have not personally done an attachment so I would not know if it helps, but I think for some people, it might help become a bit more oriented with the ways the NHS works. Some people also say that it helped them become more familiar with the British accent. If deciding to do this, perhaps it would be a good idea to plan this out beforehand when you book a date for PLAB 2. 

You can read more about getting an clinical attachment here, as well as getting your first NHS job here.

Logistics

One last thing I would strongly mention is to arrange as much as possible BEFORE you arrive in the UK. This includes your accommodation, your travel within the country, an attachment (if you are planning on doing one), your EPIC verification, getting your transcripts and certificates in order and so on. 

You can of course choose to do all of this right after taking the PLAB 2 exam, but it might make you feel more organised if you do it beforehand – and with this exam, a calm frame of mind is invaluable!

Finally I hope everyone reading this has a smooth sailing journey through PLAB 2!

Best wishes, Sunandan Banerjee.

About Dr Aman and Dr Pooja

Dr Aman Arora is a GP who is now 100% committed to transforming medical education, helping doctors across the globe to ace their exams and enhance their careers. He is proud to hold FRCGP (Fellow of Royal College of General Practitioners). Previous roles include:

  • GP Training Programme Director
  • NHS GP Appraiser
  • GMC PLAB 2 Examiner
  • GP Recruitment Examiner
  • GP Recruitment Question-writer
  • HEWM IMG Board Member
  • HEWM Advanced MRCGP AKT Trainer

Dr Pooja Arora is a GP with a background in Medical Politics, passionately focusing on improving the opportunities and working conditions for junior doctors. Previous roles include:

  • Vice Chair Birmingham LMC
  • BMA Council Member
  • BMA General Practitioners Committee elected representative 
  • BMA Sessional GP Committee elected representative 
  • BMA National Deputy Policy lead for working at scale
  • HEE GP Ambassador
  • HEE GP Stage 3 Assessor
  • RCGP Midland Faculty AiT representative

* Blogs written on our website are not for professional, financial or medical advice. Please seek appropriate professional, legal or financial advice where appropriate * 

 

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