As somebody who has reviewed 1000s of applications from international medical graduates for oftentimes scarce roles in Australia, I have had the opportunity to correlate English testing score performances with job candidate performance as well as real-world performance in the job. I’ve also spoken with many other doctors who do job selection. I’d like to share some insights with you about the English proficiency standards and English Requirements for doctors working in Australia. What I intend to share with you is the knowledge you ought to have but which is actually not normally shared with candidates.

The Medical Board of Australia requirements for registration is reasonably straightforward. The Medical Board of Australia will accept the following language tests and results for international medical graduates (IMGs):

  • IELTS Academic module. The IELTS score for doctors in Australia is a minimum overall score of 7 and a minimum score of 7 in each of the four components (listening, reading, writing and speaking). 
  • OET with a minimum score of B in each of the four components (listening, reading, writing and speaking 
  • PTE Academic with a minimum overall score of 65 and a minimum score of 65 in each of the four communicative skills (listening, reading, writing and speaking) 
  • TOEFL iBT with a minimum total score of 94 and the following minimum score in each section of the test: 24 for listening, 24 for reading, 27 for writing, and 23 for speaking. 

The Minimum Standard Is Not Going To Get You Very Far

Whilst the focus on achieving the minimum standard is understandable its actually a distraction from what international doctors ought to be focusing on, which is being able to demonstrate effective communication skills.

You see in order to be registered as a health practitioner in Australia, the Medical Board and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Authority say that you “must be able to demonstrate that your English language skills will enable you to safely practice your profession.”

Safe To Practice Or Good Practice?

But this only part of the point. There is also the issue of being able to effectively practice your profession or even practice your profession at a high standard.

So why is it that the minimum score may not be sufficient for you. Well actually there are a couple of main reasons and I will take you through each of them in turn.

Your English Proficiency Score Is An Indicator Of Your Ability to Communicate

At the end of the day, you always want to pass the test. But if you are studying to pass an English language test you really should be asking yourself the question. “How good is my English and how good do I need it to be?”

Do You Just Want To Be a Good User?

Let’s think about the implication of being deemed to be at Band 7 on IELTS. A “Good User”. Being a “good user” means that you occasionally deliver inaccurate information. Or occasionally use the wrong word. Or occasionally misunderstand in some situations. You will generally (but not always) handle complex language and detailed reasoning.

Working effectively in medicine in Australia is all about communication. You really cannot afford to be occasionally misunderstanding a patient as this might lead to a serious outcome, such as an error or a conflict. Given the amount of communication that goes on in a hospital and the level of complexity of communication and language your “occasional” problems are likely going to translate into being at least once a day if not more often. 

Employers Evaluate Your English Proficiency Score Differently to AHPRA

Employers know that there is a big difference between a straight-set of 7s on an IELTS or a set of Bs on an OET versus having at least one 8 or an A. The higher your overall score the better. Selection panels definitely do take this into consideration. 

Selection panels do it when they review the initial applications in what is called the “culling phase”. So a classic example might be a situation where for example there are 20 IMG applicants for one job and only 6 interview slots. If the candidates are equal in all other ways then those with just the minimum scores for English language requirement may well be placed in the “non-interview” pile.

Even when interviewing candidates selection panels will be more keen to see the candidate who has a good result on their test. And will more intensely scrutinize candidates with lower scores to see if there are any significant communication concerns.

So my best advice for any doctor who does, unfortunately, need to prove their English proficiency is to study and work on your English with the end aim being that your English communication should not get in the way of you being a good doctor in Australia.

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