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How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

If you are a doctor preparing for your GMC UKMLA PLAB 2 exam, this blog is a must to help you pass. We are lucky to have Dr Omar Ewis – an IMG (International Medical Graduate) doctor who recently passed his PLAB 2 at the second attempt – share his experience of how he prepared and passed after failing first time…

– Register for our next Free UKMLA PLAB 2 Webinar here
– Join the Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Telegram teaching group here.
– Join Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ programme here.

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How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

Introduction

My name is Omar and I’m a medical graduate from Egypt with one year experience in clinical pathology. I recently passed my second attempt at PLAB 2 and in this article, I’ll try to gather what I learned about the PLAB 2 exam throughout my daunting one year journey of trying to tackle it.

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

My PLAB journey

I started my PLAB journey at the raging start of the Covid pandemic and ended just as the world is leaning towards relative normalcy – it was certainly an exhausting and long experience. I passed PLAB 1 in September and waited four months before I was able to book for PLAB 2 due to a huge backlog. I then managed to book a June PLAB 2 seat, which I subsequently had to cancel given travel bans imposed by the UK. I took my first attempt in October, and my second more recently in May.

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

Preparing for PLAB 2

Despite it being a very popular exam with a long history and a huge demand worldwide, I still believe there’s a great deal of ambiguity regarding how to best prepare for PLAB 2. It is also difficult to know how to assess our own performance during practice – as well as after taking the exam itself. This is obvious from the fact that I’ve been told by some of my tutors that I would “surely and easily pass” my first attempt after months of intense preparation – at the same time as witnessing some of my colleagues pass their first attempt with seemingly little preparation.

Any doctor starting to prepare for this exam would usually take comfort in the fact that there’s a plethora of established academies out there, which have been tried and tested over many years. According to a UK registered consultant who is an acquaintance of mine ‘they feed you the exam with a silver spoon’. This expression, in my opinion, is very accurate because their learning style is quite passive, giving candidates the impression that PLAB 2 stations are just a curriculum that they need to learn for the exam – regardless of their professional background. In my opinion this is wrong, because it teaches candidates to forget how they actually do their jobs when they see patients back home. This – again in my opinion – makes candidates forget how to employ the genuine interpersonal skills that they have developed and honed during their career. In addition to this, this approach can result in an impassable mental block at the first instance when something goes mildly different to what they’ve learned in preparation.

Having said this, I do think academies are still relevant for most of us who have been trained outside the UK or the EU (you can read about how the new Arora Academy+ programme is different here). Sadly I – or in fact any of my PLAB 2 companions – had never really been taught what taking consent means, how to deal with an angry patient or how to appropriately break bad news. More importantly than this, I hadn’t been taught to acknowledge the patient’s wishes alongside what we think is the ‘right thing to do’ – the fact that formulating a management plan should happen together with the patient, and not as a dictation. To add to this, many of us don’t really know what is required to meet UK standards of practice – these are all areas that we focus heavily on at Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+.

Taking all of this into account therefore, it’s not wrong to seek to be ‘fed the exam with a silver spoon’, but it’s important to be conscious of what to take from your academy and what to avoid. This is where Dr. Arora’s UKMLA PLAB 2 teaching is really beneficial. His live sessions highlights some of the more challenging scenarios and how to handle them after taking them out of the shackles of the academy memorization mindset. In addition to the live sessions, videos and audios, his numerous short videos on YouTube swiftly change a lot of the established misconceptions taught elsewhere.

In hindsight, the reason that I failed my first attempt was – in my opinion –  that I put too much emphasis on trying to recite the knowledge that I had learned at one of the academies I attended (the Arora Academy had not started by this point!). As I read the task before entering the cubicle, I used to ask myself “which station is this?” and I proceeded accordingly. Focusing on ‘reciting’ the station led me to make wrong diagnoses and skip essential parts of the consultation such as examination and ordering investigations. I was consumed by this mindset so much that I didn’t really focus on listening to what the patient had to say or respond to their cues.

For my second attempt, firstly I was honest about identifying my shortcomings from the exam feedback. Then I started practicing again (without using my academy’s resources) after watching many YouTube consultation videos (for example those of the MRCGP CSA exam). Seeing how UK GP trainees conducted their consultations really sobered me up. Finally, I turned to various resources by Dr. Arora such as his audiobooks and live sessions (he wasn’t running mocks at the time), and these totally changed my understanding of what was actually being assessed in the exam. For our comprehensive All-in-One UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ Package click here.

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

Things I learned that helped me pass second time

For a year I had allocated most of my leisure time to prepare for this exam, and the list of things I learned and then had to unlearn over this period is very long! So here are a few things which I feel are important to understand for any doctor preparing themselves:

  1. PLAB 2 is still an exam – which means there are certain criteria that you need to meet. Don’t take the very common advice of ‘being yourself’ so far to the point that you turn your consultations into laid-back chatting with the role-players. Being yourself in PLAB 2 just means being confident to  use the skills that you have, with a few tweaks here or there. Dr. Arora talked about this on several occasions – for example when asked “how can I be more empathetic?”, the answer always revolves around a baseline of doing what you normally do to be empathetic – and trust it! If your way of showing empathy is to wear a solemn look and just nod, then go to your comfort zone and do just that – it will reflect well on the other side much more than a robotic attempt to show empathy in a taught way. Watch Dr Arora talk about how to be more empathetic here.
  2. Being an exam, there are however some things that you need to do differently. For example in real life we don’t always respond verbally to non-verbal cues – you may act on them, but not necessarily vocalise them. In an assessment however it is important to demonstrate that you picked up a cue eg disappointment, pain, anger etc. Much more advice like this can be found in different UKMLA PLAB 2 resources by Dr. Arora.
  3. Role-players are actors indeed, but don’t turn a blind eye to their genuine side – they are still workers doing their full time job. Some might be genuinely tired (or even a little bored). My advice is that if something like that happens don’t let it throw you off and don’t take it personally. Remember it may be an actual cue in the case – try and reflect it back, for example “Ms X, you seem a little down, is everything alright?”. Rapport is not something you need to reach with ‘the patient’ only but also the role-player. This sort of ‘double-rapport’ is only reached if you project your true self – not the “I’m just a candidate and I’m here for the exam” vibe. It is worth noting that the stations where I got 4 in IPS are the ones I’ve witnessed the role-player change their demeanour to a much more natural one – hopefully due to the fact that I was trying to be as natural as possible. 
  4. Many of the well known PLAB 2 “academies” provide mock tests. Mock tests are one of the greatest tools to prepare yourself for exam style flow. But many of those academies claim that they can mark your mock test just like the exam. To put it mildly, this is misleading. If you know you are well prepared and the academy ‘fails’ you in your mocks, you should not take this too seriously. Try to focus on feedback points from your tutors and don’t pay much attention to the marks. Only GMC PLAB 2 examiners can reliably mark your performance! I’ve seen how failing mocks can devastate some doctors, and I’ve then seen those very candidates pass the exam with flying colours! Dr Arora’s team had not started taking mocks when I prepared for my exam but I am aware that they now run many of these as part of the Academy package and have some previous GMC PLAB 2 examiners giving feedback. To learn more about our UKMLA PLAB 2 online mocks as part of Academy+ click here.
  5. This might sound silly, but if looking good has a profound effect on how confident you feel, then go for it with all your heart! In my first attempt, I wore one of my older shirts, a very regular pair of trousers and an odd looking pair of uncomfortable and lacklustre shoes. Whilst I didn’t look bad (!), I definitely felt much better on my second attempt with all my clothes being brand new and immaculate – I even went on to buy brand new shiny shoes just for the occasion! This is not a suggestion for everyone but for me I believe it made a big difference in how I felt – which I’m sure helped me in my performance. 
  6. In my first attempt, I used to follow a certain history scheme taught by the academy, which ultimately led me to ask lots of irrelevant questions, resulting in a huge waste of time in data gathering. When you practice for the exam, please keep this in mind and try and to keep your history more succinct and less cluttered. This is made much easier by the three bubble strategy outlined by Dr. Arora: Red flags, ICE (Ideas, Concerns, Expectations), and Psychosocial.
  7. As mentioned by Dr. Arora in one of his YouTube videos, you have a higher chance of passing your second attempt because you’ll be starting from a significantly higher point. Constantly reminding myself of this definitely boosted my confidence on exam day, as well as whilst waiting for results! Also do not underestimate the familiarity that you will have gained from already having been to the exam venue. If it is your second attempt, you’re likely to be much less stressed than others in your batch. Here’s the link to the video which I think is a must watch for any of you who failed their first attempt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_YLi3AlGEU
  8. Another aspect that I changed the second time around was accommodation. Please prioritise comfort in this aspect because it matters. Cheap accommodation can be unclean, uncomfortable and noisy – not the ideal preparation for exam day.

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

Answering common FAQs by new candidates

Throughout my presentation I’ve come across a few questions many times. If you’re about to start your PLAB 2 preparation, it might be worth going through these:

1. Do I have to join an academy?

Short answer: No. But as I mentioned, if your medical education and practice is doctor centred, and If you don’t practice medicine in English, then academies can be of help. Sometimes just purchasing notes can be enough – often academies have nothing else to offer other than their resources. I find their teaching rather redundant. You can check out Arora’s full Academy+ Package here if you are looking for an up-to-date and high quality Academy!

2. How many weeks should I devote for preparation?

In my opinion 4 weeks of devoted preparation is enough, but it still depends on you. I’ve seen people who prepared for many months and others who crammed in less than 4 weeks. Just make sure you are consistent with practicing.

3. How much time should I spend in the UK?

You don’t need more than a few days to adjust and get over jet lag, and maybe practice face to face with someone. For the majority of your time you can easily practice online from the comfort of your home. Also mannequins and Sim-man are not a big deal especially if you examine real patients daily. And as for certain procedures that you’re not familiar with, usually watching some tutorials is more than enough. I scored the highest in a station where I performed a certain procedure for the first time in my life!

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

Finally…

I hope that this blog has made those of you who are about to appear for their second attempt much more confident. 

I know how it feels to fail, and I know you’ve been through a lot. Remember however that you are already closer to the other side than you think – just push a little bit harder and you will succeed.

Dr Omar

How I Passed PLAB 2 on my Second Attempt: Dr Omar Ewis

How Arora can help you Pass UKMLA PLAB 2

For our most comprehensive ‘all-you-need’ UKMLA PLAB 2 Academy+ Package click here

For all other Arora UKMLA PLAB 2 resources (Gold Package, Mocks, Live course, Online course etc) click here

To register for our next free UKMLA PLAB 2 webinar click here: Next Free Webinar

To join our Free UKMLA PLAB 2 Telegram teaching group click here

For Dr Aman’s UKMLA PLAB 2 YouTube videos click here

Author Bio — Dr Aman Arora

Hello and welcome to Arora Medical Education! I am a Portfolio GP with a 24/7/365 passion for helping you fly through your medical exams and maximise your career. You can find out more about me here.

I’ve been fortunate to teach over 50,000 doctors globally through a combination of face-to-face, online, audio and social teaching, helping them pass exams such as MRCGP AKT and RCAMSRA and PLAB. You can find out more about my previous roles and qualifications here.

Feel free to contact me with any thoughts, questions or ideas to help you reach your potential. I look forward to meeting you soon!

 

Author Bio — Dr Pooja Arora

Dr Pooja Arora is a GP with a background in Medical Politics, where she passionately focuses on improving the opportunities and working conditions for junior doctors. She is proud to hold FRCGP (Fellow of Royal College of General Practitioners).

You can find out more about Pooja’s previous roles and qualifications here.

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