1 The MRCPath examination
Individuals who reach the standard required to pass the MRCPath examination in their chosen specialty are deemed to have the necessary professional competence to practise independently. For doctors on the General Medical Council (GMC) register, the MRCPath examination contributes to the award of the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST).
The MRCPath examination is both an assessment of a candidate’s training, indicating fitness to practise, and at the same time signals the entry into independent practice and the beginning of continuing professional development.
The MRCPath examination in all specialties is in two parts. In general terms, the Part 1 examination aims to determine whether an individual has, at an early stage of training, successfully acquired a core body of knowledge that will underpin their ability to practise in their chosen specialty.
The aim of the Part 2 examination is to provide quality assurance that a trainee who has successfully completed the curriculum and programme (including assessment through the Record of In-Training Assessment [RITA] process) is able to practise as an independent specialist and be awarded a CCST in the specialty. For non-medical candidates, passing the MRCPath examination indicates they have reached a standard of independent practice.
2 CCST and eligibility for consultant posts
The achievement of Membership by examination following a defined period of training has long been regarded as an integral part of recognition as a pathologist who has completed training and is eligible to be appointed to a consultant post. However, it must be recognised that Membership or Fellowship is a marker of achieving a professional status as a pathologist, whether by examination or by published works, and is not solely or even necessarily a criterion for appointment as a consultant.
The decision on the suitability of a candidate, and whether their training is appropriate for a particular post, is the sole prerogative and responsibility of an appointment committee, whether within the NHS system, a university or elsewhere. The MRCPath is a useful benchmark for candidates for consultant posts who have followed conventional training programmes and obtained Membership by examination, but it does not override the appointment committee’s responsibility to determine that a candidate has the right background and qualification for a particular post.
This has been clarified by the creation of the CCST. This alone signifies that a candidate has successfully completed a training programme and is eligible to apply for a consultant post. Obtaining the MRCPath by examination may be an integral part of securing a CCST, but the MRCPath alone does not automatically deliver a CCST without documented completion of an approved training programme in the UK.
3 Entry criteria for Parts 1 and 2 Membership examinations and Diploma examinations
A candidate is admitted to the College examinations solely at the discretion of College Council. Council may refuse to admit to the examination procedure any candidate who infringes any of the regulations or is considered by the examiners to be guilty of behaviour prejudicial to the proper management and conduct of the examination.
Candidates will be admitted to an examination if they are in a recognised training programme or have fulfilled the recommended training requirements. The College generally recommends that candidates attempt Part 1 after two years’ specialist training (or one year for the medical microbiology/virology multiple-choice question (MCQ) examination) and Part 2 after four years’ specialist training. Candidates may apply for each part of the examination when they and their educational supervisor or other appropriate trainer feel that they are sufficiently prepared.
Training in laboratories outside the UK will be considered on an individual basis. Applicants who have worked in appropriate laboratories or departments other than pathology laboratories may be admitted to the examination at the discretion of Council.
3.1 Medical and dental candidates
Candidates must hold a qualification that is approved by Council. Candidates holding a medical or dental qualification not accepted by the General Medical Council or General Dental Council in the UK must provide appropriate documents with their application form to demonstrate registration or permission to practise in the country or territory of domicile in which the qualification was granted.
The following specialties are open to medical candidates only: cytopathology, forensic pathology, haematology, histopathology, neuropathology, paediatric pathology, transfusion medicine and any other subjects that Council may approve. Oral pathology is open to dental candidates only.
3.2 Non-medical candidates
Candidates must hold a qualification approved by College Council. For this purpose, Council recognises the qualifications in veterinary medicine that are registrable in the UK, as well as 1st and 2nd class Honours degrees or equivalent qualifications granted in the UK and Republic of Ireland in appropriate science subjects. Applications may also be considered on an individual basis from those holding other science degrees granted in the UK and Republic of Ireland and from those holding science degrees from overseas universities.
Veterinary pathology and veterinary clinical pathology are open to candidates with a qualification in veterinary medicine only.
4 Timing and frequency of examinations
Examinations are held twice a year, except in genetics (clinical cytogenetics or molecular genetics), histocompatibility and immunogenetics, toxicology, transfusion medicine, veterinary pathology, veterinary clinical pathology and the Diploma in dermatopathology, which are normally held once a year. Full details are listed in the timetables on pages 12 and 13.
5 Application forms
Entrance to any College examination can only be effected by completion of the printed application form, obtainable from the College website (www.rcpath.org) or the Examinations Department.
The application form and entrance fee must be returned to the Examinations Department not later than the relevant closing date specified in the timetables on pages 12 and 13.
Incomplete or late applications will not be accepted.
Applicants are responsible for informing the Examinations Department of their contact details (including email address) during the time of the examination.
Applicants must be sponsored by a Fellow or Member of the College. When this is impracticable, Council may accept the signature of the head of the department in which the candidate is working.
6 Entrance fees
Fees for the Part 1 and Part 2 examinations are set by College Council. Details of the current fees are listed on page 14.
7 Withdrawal from the examination
Notification of withdrawal from the examination must be given to the Examinations Department in writing.
Candidates who withdraw from the examination up to two weeks after the relevant closing date may either have their fee refunded or transferred to the next session of the examination. Candidates who withdraw after this will forfeit the entire fee. Forfeiture of the fee may be waived only in exceptional circumstances.
8 Requirements for progression through the examination procedure
a. Candidates who fail to satisfy the examiners in the written papers will not go forward to the practical and oral stage.
b. Candidates who obtain an acceptable mark in the written papers in the combined examination (i.e. an examination which consists of both a written and a practical and oral component) and who fail the practical and oral component, will retain the pass in the written papers for three examination sessions. If the practical and oral component is not passed within three consecutive sessions (e.g. Spring 2004, Autumn 2004, Spring 2005), the candidate will be required to resit the written papers. This will apply to all candidates sitting the written papers in Spring 2004 and thereafter.
b. Candidates successfully completing the Part 1 examination comprising written papers andpractical and oral components will be offered a Diploma in their subject, except for those taking slanted examinations.
c. Candidates who have unsuccessfully attempted the Part 1 examination six times will not be permitted to re-enter the examination. Any case made for re-admission based on extenuating circumstances must be referred to College Council.
d. Candidates may not enter for the Part 2 examination until they have successfully completed the Part 1.
e. Candidates who have unsuccessfully attempted the Part 2 examination four times will not be permitted to re-enter the examination. Any case made for re-admission based on extenuating circumstances must be referred to College Council.
f. Candidates who wish to sit the Part 2 examination in a subject other than that passed in Part 1 must obtain the permission of College Council, except candidates who have passed the Part 1 examination in histopathology who, after appropriate experience, may sit the Part 2 examination in one of the following: histopathology, cytopathology, forensic pathology or neuropathology.
9 Marking system for the written papers
The College operates a closed marking system and examiners use the system outlined below in order to obtain a uniform system of marking.
In both essay papers, each question receives a notional 25 marks. The minimum pass mark is 50% overall. However, a total mark of 46% on one paper is a definite fail, but a total mark of between 47–49% on one paper can be compensated by a corresponding surplus of marks in the other paper.
Mark awarded Category
15 (maximum) Excellent pass
14 Clear pass
12 Borderline fail
11 Clear fail
10 (minimum) Bad fail
10 Notification of results
Information about the notification of examination results is given on pages 15 and 16.
In the case of failure, feedback and reasons for the failure will be given directly to the candidate, to discuss with an appropriate supervisor or specialty designated individual. The adviser can obtain from the Examinations Department a summary of a candidate’s performance for each question in the Part 1 written examination. They can also have access to feedback sheets completed by the examiners, with comments on each unsuccessful candidate’s performance in the practical and oral examinations. If a candidate is not satisfied with the feedback provided, the Chair of the Panel of Examiners may, in special circumstances, arrange for a further review of the written papers. This would be for feedback purposes only; papers will not be re-marked.
12 College Membership
On passing the examination, members sign a consent card agreeing to be bound by the provisions of the Charter and the Ordinances as amended from time to time and shall be bound to further to the best of his/her ability the objects and interests of the College.
After eight years of College Membership, an offer of admission to the Fellowship may be made to those Members in good standing.
13 Guidance for overseas candidates
The MRCPath examinations are open to overseas candidates and the College has several overseas training and examination centres. The training and educational facilities of the majority of these have been assessed for their suitability for the MRCPath.
The College recommends that overseas candidates have access to appropriate training programmes, which must incorporate robust continuous assessment. If such training programmes are not available in the candidate’s home country, the College recommends that appropriate secondment to a period of training in a UK department is undertaken, to enhance the chances of success. MRCPath candidates from overseas who are intent on working in the UK must fulfil all the criteria for limited registration with the GMC.
13.1 Overseas examination centres
It can sometimes be arranged for candidates to take the written examination overseas. Candidates who pass the written papers are asked to attend for the practical examination (if appropriate) in the UK at the next session of the examination. Candidates passing written papers in Spring will be asked to attend the practical in Autumn, and those passing the written papers in Autumn will be asked to attend the practical in Spring. Candidates wishing to avoid this delay must sit the written papers in the UK.
All candidates who sit the written papers overseas are required to submit an additional fee at the time of application. Candidates wishing to sit in India must make their application via The Indian College of Pathologists and should note that they may be required to pay an additional local fee to the Indian College.
Written examinations can usually be arranged in the following centres, depending on there being sufficient demand from local candidates: Singapore, Melbourne, Durban, Hong Kong, Jeddah, Kuwait, Mumbai and Karachi.
Candidates who are resident overseas and apply for the practical and oral examinations should be prepared to make themselves available in the UK during the whole period stated in the timetable.
Detailed information is sent out to candidates approximately two weeks beforehand and it is essential, therefore, that candidates keep the College office informed of their current address. Information may be sent to a temporary UK address, provided at least one week’s notice is given. For histopathology candidates, it is particularly important that a current daytime telephone number is given to enable the centre to contact candidates at short notice to arrange the post mortem.
14 Disability and special difficulties
Candidates with a permanent or temporary disability (defined under the Disability Discrimination Act as a physical, sensory or mental impairment which has, or had, a substantial and long-term adverse affect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities), which may require adaption of the examination procedures, should inform the Examinations Department in writing at the time of submitting their application for the examination.
In exceptional adverse personal circumstances, such as bereavement or temporary or permanent illness or injury, a candidate may feel that his or her performance in the examination has been, or would be, affected. If you would like such circumstances to be taken into consideration, you must inform the Examinations Department in writing, in advance of the examination. You must provide independent corroboration of your situation, such as a certificate or letter from your general practitioner, consultant or clinical psychologist. Any variation of the examination rules or procedures will be at the discretion of the Chair of the Examinations Committee and may consist, for example, of allowing extra time for written papers or the waiving of withdrawal or re-sit charges. Additional marks will not be awarded in any circumstances.