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What is a medical resident?

What is a medical resident?

Discover everything you need to know about medical residencies.

If you aspire to become a doctor, you may think that getting accepted into a medical program is your end goal. However, once classes begin, you will quickly realize that medical school is just the start of your journey towards becoming a licensed physician. Residency training may take place after you’ve received your MD, but it is one of the most important parts of your journey.

You probably already have a basic idea of what being a medical resident involves. You may have even heard about the experiences of alumni who graduated a few years ago from your program. However, if you think you may be missing some information or want to understand medical residency programs better, read on and find out more about what you can expect when you embark on becoming a medical resident.

What is a medical resident?

A medical resident is a medical school graduate with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree who is taking part in a post-graduate training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Medical residents work at doctors’ offices or hospitals to continue their education and medical training in a specialized field. This is referred to as a ‘residency.’ During their residency, medical residents provide direct care to patients, including diagnosing, managing, and treating health conditions and injuries.

First-year residents are usually referred to as PGY-1 (post-graduate year one) or interns because the first year of residency is considered an internship. Interns become residents from the second year of their residents as they focus more on their field of specialty. After they complete their residency, doctors who advance on to subspecialties are called fellows, and their training is called a fellowship.

Education and training

All resident doctors are required to complete medical school with a diploma such as a Doctor of Medicine. To enable residents to provide care during their residency, they must have a license from the jurisdiction or state where they work. Junior residents may have a restricted training license but will need to obtain a full unrestricted license to continue their training or start their own medical practice. During their residency, residents continue their learning by becoming more responsible for care while under the supervision of doctors or senior residents. Residents will also have the opportunity to work with patients long enough to observe how illnesses and conditions evolve.

Medical residency placements

Usually, medical students will have decided which medical field they wish to specialize in during their fourth year. However, a resident may choose to specialize in many different medical fields, including anesthesiology, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, radiology, or surgery. This will then steer them as to which medical residency programs they should apply to.

Residency match

For students participating in the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), it is the culmination of a year’s work. During the first half of their senior year, medical students apply for their chosen accredited residency programs at a US teaching hospital or medical center. After they have submitted their application, visited the program sites, and been interviewed by the program directors, they will submit their preferred residency choices in order of preference. Simultaneously, the residency program directors will also submit a list of the students they interviewed in preferred rank order. Both lists are then submitted to the NRMP, matching students with a residency program. Finally, around the end of March, during the students’ final semester, known as ‘Match Day,’ students find out if they have been matched to a residency program. In most cases, students will match with one of their top three preferred residency programs.

Preparing for residency

Before embarking on your residency, there are some ways you can set the foundation for your success. An excellent place to start is by finding great mentors. There is nothing more valuable to your training and development than learning from a professional. For instance, if your mentor is a technically superb transplant surgeon, they are likely to instruct you in all the ways that helped them achieve their status. It is also helpful to get into the mindset of being a lifelong learner. Embracing the attitude that continuous education and maintaining board certification are all part of being a physician will significantly benefit you.

What does a medical resident do?

Medical residents work in doctors’ offices or hospital departments such as emergency departments, intensive care units, general patient wards, and operating rooms. As doctors in training, residents will develop their skills in giving examinations, laboratory work, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, performing medical procedures, recording medical histories, and mental and physical self-care. They will also gain experience in the disclosure of adverse events or delivering bad news.

In hospitals, most of a resident’s work and training will occur during rounds — when a group of doctors and health care professionals goes from patient to patient to assess their condition, progress, and treatment. Alternatively, a resident may work in a doctor’s office or outpatient clinic assisting with patient examinations and treatments. Residents may also spend time helping coordinate services for patients alongside other health care team members. 

How long is residency after medical school?

While most residences last for between 3 and 7 years, the length of a medical residency will largely depend on the specialty you choose to pursue. For instance:

SpecialtyLength of residency
Family practice3 years
Internal medicine3 years
Pediatrics3 years
Obstetrics and Gynecology4 years
Emergency Medicine3-4 years
Urology5 years
General Surgery5 years
Plastic Surgery6 years
Neurosurgery7 years

 If you are considering pursuing a highly specialized field of medicine, such as reconstructive surgery, pediatric radiology, or female pelvic medicine, you will need to complete additional fellowship training after your residency.

How much do medical residents make?

If you are wondering how much medical residents make, salaries among medical residents vary just as they do for any other profession. Geographic location, length of experience, and field of specialty will together influence a resident’s earning potential. However, the average salary for first-year residents in the US is $56,126 a year. For a fourth-year resident, the annual salary increases to $63,014 on average.

Residents are also eligible for several benefits. The exact breakdown of benefits a resident is eligible for depends on which program they join, but can include:

  •     Medical resident salary
  •     Health insurance
  •     2 to 4 weeks paid vacation time
  •     Contributions towards meals and parking

What happens after medical residency?

Once you complete your medical residency program, there are several avenues you can take. For example:


Some doctors decide to continue their training after their residency by going on to complete a fellowship. A fellowship is at least one more year of study, usually in the subspecialty of their residency, to learn more cutting-edge techniques. Doctors who become fellows are often considered to be experts in their chosen field.


After completing their residency program, doctors can apply for an unrestricted medical license. They will then have the option to find employment in private practice, group practice, or become employed by a clinic or hospital.

Board of certification

Many doctors decide to earn board certification in their field of specialty after their American Board of Medical Specialties accredited residency comes to an end. Board certification is a voluntary qualification that reflects your knowledge in a certain field such as internal medicine, orthopedics, pediatrics, or pathology.

Your journey towards securing the best residency program for you starts with a great medical school. So, if you want to boost your career, contact us today to find out more about our MD programs.

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