IELTS vs OET for Nurses

2024 Feb 29

Why English Matters for Healthcare Heroes!

English as a communication language is a must for healthcare workers to work globally. It helps them in the following ways:

  • Talk clearly with patients: Understanding symptoms, explaining diagnoses
  • Work with global colleagues: Sharing knowledge and best practices across borders with colleagues
  • Stay up-to-date: Most medical research and journals are in English, so knowing it keeps you informed.

Now, to level up your English, two main exams can help:

Let’s learn more about each exam and help you decide which fits your journey!

Exploring IELTS

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a globally accepted exam. Recognized as one of the most trusted and respected English proficiency tests globally, IELTS paves the way for both education and migration aspirations.

It is designed for non-native speakers aiming to live, study, or work in English-speaking environments, IELTS assesses your real-world communication skills across four key areas:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Since in 1989, IELTS has become a benchmark for English language ability, accepted by over 8,000 universities, employers, and immigration bodies worldwide.

Types of IELTS

It is of two types:

  • General Training & Academic: Both have the same Speaking and Listening tests, but differ in Reading and Writing to assess skills relevant to either studying or general work.
  • Life Skills: This UK government-approved test focuses solely on speaking and listening, perfect for those needing proof of English for everyday life in the UK.

IELTS Academic

Designed to assess your readiness for English-language university studies, IELTS Academic features vocabulary and tasks relevant to higher education.

But here's the bonus: This test works for professional registration in certain fields, making it a versatile investment in your future.

IELTS General Training

Is your dream to build a new life in an English-speaking country, like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the UK? Or maybe you want to boost your career prospects with valuable English skills? Then the IELTS General Training test is your key!

This test focuses on everyday English used in real-life situations, equipping you for seamless integration into social circles and workplaces. Whether you're aiming for immigration, work experience, training, or further studies (below degree level), IELTS General Training empowers you to communicate confidently and achieve your goals.

Choose the IELTS General Training test if you wish to migrate to a country where English is spoken, (e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and UK) or if you wish to train or study at below degree level.

In IELTS, there are four papers:

  1. Listening
  2. Reading
  3. Writing
  4. Speaking

IELTS Listening

Get ready to dive into a 30-minute listening test! Here's what you can expect:

  • 4 sections: Each with 10 questions testing your everyday and academic conversations.
  • Real-life scenarios: From travel plans to university discussions, immerse yourself in practical situations.
  • One listen only: Pay close attention, as you won't get a second chance!
  • Global voices: Challenge your ear with diverse accents like British, Australian, New Zealand, and North American.
  • Answer sheet transfer: Take 10 minutes at the end to carefully transfer your answers, minding spelling and grammar for accuracy.

Remember, your listening skills are key to understanding and interacting in English-speaking environments. So, take a deep breath, focus, and ace this part of the IELTS test!

Time allowed

Number of parts

Number of questions


Approximately 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet)



Each correct answer receives 1 mark. Your final score is given as a band score in whole or half bands, e.g. 5.5 or 7.0.

IELTS General Writing

Prepare to tackle two diverse tasks:

Task 1: Writing Correspondence (20 minutes, 150+ words)

Imagine writing a letter about a real-life situation. Could it be asking for information, explaining a problem, or even making a complaint? Channel your inner wordsmith and craft a clear, concise message that gets the job done.

Task 2: Essay Writing (40 minutes, 250+ words)

Get ready to explore an opinion, argument, or problem. Think critically, gather your thoughts, and express your view in a well-structured essay. Remember, full sentences and organized paragraphs are key!


  • Ditch the bullet points and jot down notes on the question paper only.
  • Transfer your final answers neatly onto the answer sheet.
  • Watch your time and word count!
  • Grammar and spelling matter, so double-check before submitting.

Time allowed

Number of Tasks


60 minutes


Task 2 contributes twice as much as Task 1 to the Writing score.

IELTS Speaking Test

This face-to-face interview with an examiner assesses your real-time communication skills. Here's what you can expect:

3 Stages, 3 Goals:

  • Part 1: Warming Up (4-5 minutes): Chat about familiar topics like family, hobbies, and studies. Think of it as breaking the ice!
  • Part 2: Spotlight on You (3-4 minutes): Draw a topic card, get a minute to gather your thoughts, and then talk for up to two minutes. Show off your fluency and vocabulary!
  • Part 3: Going Deeper (4-5 minutes): Dive deeper into your chosen topic with follow-up questions. Here's where you demonstrate your ability to discuss complex ideas.


  • It's a conversation, not an interrogation! Relax and engage with the examiner.
  • Speak clearly and confidently, using varied vocabulary and grammar.
  • Think critically and express your opinions thoughtfully.

Time allowed: 11–14 minutes

Number of parts: 3

Pros of IELTS for Healthcare Professionals:

  1. Global Recognition: IELTS is widely accepted by healthcare institutions and employers worldwide, opening doors to international opportunities.
  2. Broad Language Skills: IELTS assesses reading, writing, listening, and speaking, crucial for effective communication in healthcare.
  3. Easy Access: With numerous test centers globally, finding a convenient location is straightforward.
  4. Flexible Options: Choose the Academic module, targeting skills relevant to academic and professional settings in healthcare.
  5. Quick Results: Receive your results faster than with some other English proficiency tests, meeting application deadlines efficiently.

Cons of IELTS for Healthcare Professionals:

  1. General Focus: While comprehensive, IELTS may lack specific attention to healthcare vocabulary and terminology.
  2. Speaking Format: The face-to-face interview might be intimidating for some, who might prefer a standardized speaking assessment.

OET for Healthcare Professionals

What is OET?

The Occupational English Test (OET) helps non-native healthcare professionals, especially nurses, feel confident communicating in English on the world stage.

Why Choose OET?

  • Open Global Doors: OET is accepted in many countries like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, making it your key to exciting career opportunities overseas.
  • Speak Like a Nurse: Unlike other English tests, OET focuses on medical vocabulary and real-life nursing scenarios, ensuring your language skills match the job demands.
  • Sharpens Your Skills: OET goes beyond just testing English. It helps you build critical skills like talking to patients, making tough decisions quickly, and understanding complex medical information under pressure. These skills are tested through realistic simulations of nursing situations.
  • Safer Patient Care: Clear English communication is vital for understanding patients' concerns and addressing their needs effectively, ultimately leading to better patient safety.

What to Expect:

Similar to other tests like IELTS and TOEFL, OET has four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. But what makes it different is that OET uses familiar medical vocabulary, making it easier for nurses compared to general English tests.

No Pass or Fail:

Instead of a simple pass or fail, OET uses a graded system. Each country has its own minimum score you need to achieve for things like visa applications and professional registration.

Lifelike Practice:

OET questions mirror real-life nursing scenarios. For example, the speaking section involves role-playing with simulated patients, while the writing section requires writing discharge letters based on a patient's information.

Beyond Language:

While OET prepares you linguistically, remember that working in a new country involves cultural adjustments too. Taking the test gives you a chance to practice your key professional skills in a similar setting, helping you transition smoothly.

OET: Assess Your Healthcare English in 4 Parts

Listening (50 minutes):

  • 3 sections: consultations, monologues, dialogues
  • Understand spoken English in medical settings
  • Fill in answers based on information heard

Writing (45 minutes):

  • Analyze case notes and complete a writing task
  • Write a letter in 40 minutes (5 min prep)
  • Assessed on clarity, organization, and language
  • Most challenging, practice recommended

Reading (60 minutes):

  • 3 parts: short texts, long texts
  • Answer questions based on healthcare-related texts
  • 15 min for Part A, 45 min for B & C combined
  • Multiple-choice questions with answer options
  • Guidance for finding answers in long texts

Speaking (20 minutes):

  • 2 role-playing exercises: doctor & patient/relative/caregiver
  • 3 min prep, 5 min performance per role-play
  • Different settings, patients, and tasks

OET: Boost Your Career with Healthcare English Expertise

Focus on the positives:

  • Speak like a pro: OET tests language used in everyday healthcare settings, ensuring you communicate effectively with patients and colleagues.
  • Real-life practice: Role-play consultations and write letters like you would on the job, preparing you for real-world situations.
  • Open career doors: Accepted by medical institutions and employers in English-speaking countries, OET unlocks exciting healthcare opportunities abroad.
  • Targeted assessment: Unlike general English tests, OET assesses skills specific to your profession, demonstrating your medical communication readiness.
  • Know your strengths: Get separate scores for each skill (listening, reading, writing, speaking) to identify areas for improvement and celebrate your strengths.


  • Global reach: While gaining recognition, OET may not be accepted everywhere as other tests. Explore the opportunities in your target region.
  • Find your test: Test dates and locations might be limited compared to other exams. Plan ahead and check availability in your area.
  • Master medical terms: Writing and speaking tests often involve complex medical vocabulary. Brush up on your terminology for seamless communication.
  • General English: OET focuses on healthcare English, but if you need a broader assessment, consider additional options.
  • Weigh the cost: Registration fees can be higher than some tests. Evaluate the investment against the career benefits OET offers.

Choosing Between IELTS and OET

News Alert: Both IELTS and OET are now accepted for UK medical licensing! But which one gives you the edge?

Focus on Healthcare: OET specifically tests English used in medical settings, directly aligning with your daily communication needs. Imagine: Role-playing patient consultations instead of generic academic topics.

Targeted Expertise: Unlike IELTS, OET assessments are designed for healthcare, ensuring your skills truly reflect medical expectations.

Save Time & Money: Pass an OET section? You can "bank" it and only retake weaker areas. IELTS makes you start over, even if you ace listening.

Growing Recognition: While gaining global traction, IELTS remains the "gold standard." However, OET is increasingly accepted by healthcare institutions, especially in the UK, opening doors to your dream job sooner.

Remember: Strong English is key. Choose the test that speaks your healthcare language!

H2: Real-life Experiences

I liked OET because the questions were like real-life situations for me, helping mothers and babies. The writing part felt just like explaining things to my patients. OET really understood what I do, and I felt good about showing my language skills in a way that fits my job.- Nurse Sanjay Patel - Heart Unit Helper

OET was great for me because the stories and questions were like what I see every day in the heart unit. The speaking part felt like talking to patients and colleagues. OET understood how nursing works, and it made me feel comfortable while showing my language skills.-Dr. Ananya Gupta

Struggling with IELTS, I decided to explore other options and chose OET. The scenarios in OET's writing and speaking tests were tailored to nursing, making it much easier to convey my expertise. OET recognized the specific language demands of nursing communication, and it felt like a more authentic reflection of my skills. The decision to switch to OET was a game-changer for me - Nurse Aisha Khan


In the choice between IELTS and OET for healthcare professionals, OET undoubtedly is the clear preference. Unlike IELTS, OET is specifically tailored for healthcare contexts, offering scenarios and language tasks directly aligned with the daily responsibilities of healthcare professionals. The emphasis on realistic, profession-specific content in OET, focused on medical scenarios and communication skills, provides a more accurate reflection of a candidate's abilities.

This targeted approach makes OET an obvious and advantageous choice for healthcare professionals, offering a more relevant and comprehensive assessment of their English language proficiency in a medical setting.

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