Stakeholder research

Perceptions of the MRCP(UK) Diploma: Stakeholders’ views

MRCP(UK) commissioned qualitative research to explore and understand views and perceptions of the three-part MRCP(UK) Diploma in general and more specifically across four key areas:

  • reputation
  • academic quality
  • the standard set
  • service provided.

Key findings

  • The MRCP(UK) Diploma is seen as an essential component of training: a reliable benchmark against which to assess junior doctors’ basic competence and their fitness to go onto specialty training.
  • It has status and prestige because it is the examination of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and as a result of the examination’s international reach.
  • As a whole the examination is seen as having a high academic standard: difficult and demanding to pass, but appropriately so.
  • Respondents questioned the relevance of assessing knowledge of basic medical sciences in a postgraduate examination.
  • PACES (Practical Assessment of Clinical Examinations) is well regarded and the most high profile part of the Diploma: it is the most worrying for junior doctors and hosting it is a major piece of work for trusts and the individual consultants and other staff involved.
  • Cost of examination fees is seen as hard to justify.

Why did we commission this research?

The MRCP(UK) Diploma plays a vital role in the medical training of junior doctors. Passing the three-part Diploma demonstrates a doctor’s readiness for specialty training in the UK, ensuring that they have the right knowledge and skills to practice safely and competently. On behalf of the Federation of Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom MRCP(UK) is responsible for ensuring the Diploma is fair and relevant for trainees and meets the needs of the regulator, the General Medical Council, as well as the needs of the wider medical profession and the public. To help us understand whether the Diploma is seen as fit for purpose in the context of UK medical training we commissioned a professional research agency to undertake independent qualitative research to explore and understand stakeholders’ views of the MRCP(UK) Diploma.

What did the research involve?

Professional recruiters approached potential respondents with a letter of introduction from MRCP(UK) explaining the aims of the research. Experienced researchers conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews with NHS physicians at all levels of seniority and from a range of backgrounds.

What next?

The report was formally presented to the MRCP(UK) Management Board at the end of 2013. A high level response was prepared and shared with the individual examining boards to evaluate the specific outcomes and relevance for future development.

In summary, many of the issues raised can be addressed with improved transparency and communication. This on-going programme of work has started by improving the information available to candidates on the MRCP(UK) website.

Over the next 12 months, MRCP(UK) will continue to make more information available to candidates to demonstrate the academic infrastructure and rationale underpinning the validity, reliability and fairness of the MRCP(UK) Diploma and its individual components. Including:

  • increasing transparency for stakeholders so they can be confident that examination income is being spent responsibly
  • articulating the academic rationale behind the content of our examinations more clearly and widely among candidates
  • demonstrating the infrastructure and staff required to support continual development of content, examination delivery and the services we provide to our candidates
  • publishing results of a qualitative study into the language and communication skills of international candidates
  • improving resources for all those involved in the delivery of PACES.


The report is available to download:

Qualitative research on perceptions of the MRCP(UK) Diploma