OET or IELTS for Healthcare Professionals: How to Choose.


The First Step for International Doctors and Nurses: Demonstrating English Proficiency

The first step for international doctors and nurses who wish to be registered as licensed practitioners in the United Kingdom, and many other English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, is effectively demonstrating your English proficiency. This is a crucial requirement and a question that healthcare professionals often ask me is, ‘Which English language test should I take: IELTS or OET?’

IELTS or OET: Which Test to Choose?

If your goal is to practise as a nurse or doctor, I would recommend OET every time. On the other hand, if you aim to further your education, or work in research, IELTS would be a better choice. This is because the skills you will practise in order to pass each exam will better prepare you for these different roles.

OET for Nursing and Medical Practice, IELTS for Education and Research

Although both tests assess all four language skills—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—the content of IELTS is carefully selected to allow candidates to showcase their proficiency in academic English. It is designed to evaluate your language abilities in a broader academic context. Conversely, OET is specifically tailored for healthcare professionals, incorporating tasks that mirror real-life scenarios you are likely to encounter in the workplace. There are also specific tests for 12 different healthcare professions.

OET options for test takers. Take the test at a centre in person or on a computer, or take the test at home. Check availability.
The OET offers different options for test takers.

OET: Tailored for Healthcare Professionals and Real-Life Workplace Scenarios

For instance, the speaking section of OET includes two role plays involving interactions with patients or their relatives. The writing section requires you to review patient notes and write a letter to another healthcare professional. Furthermore, the listening and reading sections are centred around medically related content, although they are not profession specific. You can choose from 2 options – a computer-based test or a face-to face to face test. Check which are available in your country here.

Recognition by GMC and NMC: Acceptance of Both IELTS and OET

This unique approach of OET prepares you more effectively for working in an English-speaking healthcare system. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that both the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) accept IELTS as well.

Addressing Specialties in OET: Why it’s Not Feasible

One common question that arises regarding OET medicine is, ‘Why doesn’t it have different tests for different medical specialties?’ Or more specifically, ‘I am a gynaecologist; I don’t know anything about paediatrics.’ First and foremost, creating tests for every individual specialty would be an insurmountable task. Additionally, it would significantly increase the cost of the exam, which is already quite high—currently around £330 (587 AUD $). For many people, this cost is already unaffordable.

Communication Skills Over Medical Knowledge: Focus of the OET

However, this is not something you should worry about. Why? Because passing the OET does not require you to possess in-depth knowledge of every possible medical condition. In fact, the focus of the test is not on your medical expertise but on your ability to communicate effectively.
For instance, in the speaking section, your ability to use language that patients can understand, ask relevant questions, listen attentively, respond empathetically, and provide reassurance are the aspects being evaluated. The full criteria for speaking can be found here.

Validity Period: Consider the Timing for Taking the Exam

It is worth noting that both tests are valid for a period of two years. Therefore, I suggest you consider the optimal timing for taking the exam, regardless of which one you choose.

Success on the First Attempt: Thorough Preparation and Assistance

Finally, it is possible to pass these exams on a first attempt. To do this I encourage you to prepare thoroughly by using the free resources that the testing bodies provide, and if necessary, ask for help from an experienced language coach or assessor.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right Test for Your Healthcare Career

In conclusion, when it comes to demonstrating your English proficiency for registration as a licensed healthcare professional, the choice between IELTS and OET depends on your specific career goals. OET is highly recommended for those aspiring to work as nurses or doctors, as it aligns closely with the healthcare context and requirements. On the other hand, IELTS may be more suitable if you have plans to pursue further education or engage in research.

Background and Recognition: IELTS and OET as Widely-Accepted English Language Tests

IELTS and OET are probably two of the most widely-recognised and accepted English language tests in the world. Both are recognised by educational institutions, registration bodies and immigration authorities. However, IELTS has been around for much longer. It was established in 1989 and is now taken by over 3 million people each year. OET, on the other hand, is a relatively new exam. Launched in 2010, it has far fewer test takers, but since recognition of the test in the UK a 250 -300% increase has been seen and this is expected to continue.

Further information

For information on booking your test, getting results and sample materials always check the official websites.

IELTS: International English Language Testing System
OET: Occupational English Test

Rachel Williams is an experienced Medical English teacher and former nurse. She helps international doctors pass the OET exam, become more fluent speakers and gain the confidence to use the English that they have studied in real life situations.

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