OET vs IELTS for Healthcare Professionals

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Exams can be very stressful – and sometimes costly - so it’s very important to make sure that you choose the right exam for your goals. For example, if you’re looking for an exam that will help you to go to university you have a choice between Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency, and IELTS. If you’re looking for an exam because you’re a medical professional, however, then you have the choice between OET and IELTS . But which is best? 


The OET, the Occupational English Test, has been designed with medical professionals in mind, and it was long overdue. It uses medical context, medical vocabulary, and medical scenarios for the whole exam. So, if you’re already a trained nurse, or a trained midwife, or a doctor, you will have the vocabulary. You have familiarity with all the scenarios, and the texts are going to mean something to you. When you start the exam and find yourself reading texts about life in a hospital, or how to treat patients in a particular context, you will automatically be more familiar with this because that’s where your training has been. When you come to the exam day there may still be one or two terms that are not familiar to you, but we can almost guarantee that if you compare the number of terms not familiar to you in an IELTS exam, it would be a tiny percentage in OET, and possibly quite a large percentage in IELTS. Such familiarity is a good foundation from which to take any exam. 

On the other hand, if you don’t already have all the relevant vocabulary you need, then learning it will be relevant to your everyday work moving forward, and any work you put in while studying for the OET can be recycled in your professional life. You can be very targeted with your preparation, and anything you’re picking up in your professional life can be used in your OET. It’s a win-win situation: it makes the exam easier to do well in, and it makes it more meaningful for you when you take the exam. We can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Who recognises the OET? 

In the UK, the OET is recognised and accepted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical council, and most recently, by the General Pharmaceutical council, and these are the bodies which oversee the health service in the UK, so you can be assured that if you have an OET exam, it’s your passport to working in the NHS. The OET is also recognised in many other countries around the world. 

The OET may not be familiar to you yet so you may be tempted to stick with what you know – but we do know OET, so that's where we can help. 


IELTS is one of the main English exam qualifications used to support visa applications or university admissions. As such, it’s a very general academic exam, and you may find yourself reading texts on economics or politics or sociology, which may be subjects that you know very little about with vocabulary you haven’t seen before. It’s not possible to predict what subjects are going to come up in the exam, so you must prepare a much broader range of topics, to talk about, to read about and to write about. This is good if you are applying to a university or for a visa in an English-speaking country, as the broader your vocabulary on a range of subjects, the better you will get on once you have reached your destination. 

Do you need to prepare for an English language exam like the OET, the Cambridge exams or IELTS? 

You may have a very high level of English already, and you may have been working in the UK for some time, and so you’re asking yourself, do I need a preparation course in order to get ready for an exam? We would say, you probably do. Taking any exam is an investment, and you want to make sure you are as well-prepared as you possibly can be to ensure you only need to take the exam once to achieve your desired result.  

All exams require specific ways of putting your acquired language into practice, and exam technique is often the key between the grades that you’re awarded in different exams. For an exam like OET, it is essential to know what you are likely to be asked and how you are expected to respond in speaking and in writing. You need familiarity with the reading and listening texts and the associated tasks. An OET preparation course can give you all of that and more. 

Even native speakers who take exams like Cambridge Proficiency or IELTS have been known to fail because they don’t have the techniques they need and they’re not really that clear on what they’re supposed to do. So, in our opinion, it’s a good investment to take a good, well-regarded course which prepares you for the exam, and that way you only have to take the exam once. 


Find out more about IH Bristol's OET preparation course here (available monthly) or IELTS courses here (available year-round)