The MRCS (Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons) is the post-graduate diploma awarded by the various UK Royal and Irish Colleges of Surgeons. It is primarily an examination for basic surgical trainees, but the qualification and the experience can be useful in specialties such as Radiology and Emergency Medicine.
Its usefulness as an qualification for non-surgical specialties is likely to change. Emergency Medicine has established its own entry exam (MCEM). Additionally, with the Modernising Medical Careers, it is likely that trainees will have to decide on their chosen specialties much earlier. It is likely that other non-surgical specialties will follow Emergency Medicine and will develop their own set of examination(s) tailored to the relevant specialty. There may also no longer be the luxury of completing the traditional requirements of the MRCS prior to switching to a non-surgical career (e.g. as in radiology).
Finally, whereas the MRCS was previously sufficient to gain entry to higher surgical training, possession of the MRCS is no longer sufficient. This is partly due to changes in the requirements to sit the MRCS. Previously, a minumum of 24 months of approved posts were required and the final part of the examination could only be taken after 20 months in training. Recent changes mean that the exam can be taken at any time once basic surgical training has been started. As a result, proof of satisfactory basic surgical requires a Certificate of Completion of Basic Surgical Training (CCBST). This has to be obtained separately via the Intercollegiate Committee on Basic Surgical Training.
In May 2005, the Royal College of Surgeons of England announced the end of the MRCS. It is likely that the first part of the MRCS will be adapted to serve as a competitive examination that will count as part of the selection procedure for progression to further surgical training.
Several changes have occured between 2003 and 2004. Previously, each individual College held separate examinations and awarded separate diplomas, i.e. MRCS (Eng.) or MRCS (Ed.). Since January 2004, the diploma is now awarded on an inter-collegiate basis and the different parts of the examination are recognised across the colleges.
The regulations regarding the diploma have also changed. In the past, basic trainees were required to undertake a minimum of 24-months of surgical jobs, comprising 4 different surgical sub-specialties. This requirement has now been relaxed to a possibility of any 4 different surgical posts. There
More details on the applying for the exam can be found at the Royal Colleges' web-sites:
- The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
- The Royal College of Surgeons of England
- The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
- The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
When to Sit the Examination
You may sit part 1 at any time, but must have started basic surgical training to sit part 2. The general advice is to sit the exam as early as possible. The earlier you finish it, the more freedom you to enjoy surgery and also to plan your next career move. Ideally, you should aim to finish your MRCS during the 2-3 years that make up a basic surgical rotation. Having the MRCS will make your further career progress much easier (compulsory for progression to SpR, highly desirable for senior SHO jobs).
Some people are concerned about the time limit that starts ticking the moment you sit the first part. In practice, even allowing for re-sits, you should be able to finish all parts in 3 1/2 years. Obviously, if you are in a busy job and/or feel that you aren't ready, there is no point sitting the exam just for the sake of taking it early! It can also be useful to time the exams to coincide with less busy jobs or even to sit after doing a general surgical job (as the exam have a bias towards general surgery)
How to Study
Individual study habits vary, but passing the exam requires hardwork, practice and at least some experience on the wards.
Personal preferences vary, but it is best to stick to 1-2 textbooks for each area: General
- Raftery's applied basic science for BST
- Prof Lowes Path Viva book plus "mini robbins"
- Clinical Anatomy (Harold Ellis)
- Clinically Oriented Anatomy (Moore and Dalley)
- Anatomy at a Glance (Faiz & Moffat)
- Acland's Video Atlas of Human Anatomy (6 DVDs)
- Care of the critically ill course
- Parchment Smith
- Pastest testbooks
- Pastest MCQ books
Operative Textbooks Kirk
The Royal Colleges offer a number of courses aimed at MRCS trainees:
- Basic Surgical Skills (BSS) course: mandatory 3-day course designed to teach basic techniques such as suturing, knot tying, debridement and simple laparoscopy.
- Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course: covers principles of trauma management in a three day course including simulations, practical stations and moulages.
- Care of the Critically Ill Surgical Patient (CCrISP) course: teaches an organised approach to the management of the acutely unwell surgical patient, incluing aspects of ITU/HDU care, cardiovascular and respiratory support.
For more information on Royal College courses visit the RCSEng website.
Other companies and departments offer numerous revision courses for the MRCS exams. These include courses tailored to specific aspects of the exam, e.g. anatomy, viva practice and clinical practice.
- exam tips