The medical residency is a period of on-the-job training that begins after you complete medical school. You’ll need an MD or DO degree from an accredited medical school in order to attain a residency. Even though you already have an MD or DO degree, the residency is required to get a license to practice medicine in the U.S. Even doctors who have practiced in other countries cannot get their license to practice without working as a medical resident first.

How is a residency different from an internship?

The first year of a residency, or PostGraduate Year-1 (PGY-1) is called an internship. During that year, it’s typical to rotate through several specialties, working in a variety of medical settings. Besides patient care, you’ll also be learning through participation in prepared lectures and conferences. Following your internship, you’ll start getting much  more involved in your chosen specialty. This is the typical stint of a medical resident. After you’re done with your residency, you may decide to continue more work in a subspecialty, in what’s called a “fellowship.” You  might also decide to stay on an extra year after your official residency to become “chief resident,” overseeing other residents. If you’re looking to teach or take on an administrative or policy-making role later on in your career, this could be a very valuable experience.

How long is a residency?

Depending on your specialty, a typical medical residency is around three to five years long. If you’re going into primary care, plan on three years. For a surgical specialty, five. Not surprisingly, a neurosurgery residency is the longest, at seven years. Four years is probably the most common length of residency, for medical specialties like Anesthesiology, Dermatology, Neurology, OB/Gyn, Psychiatry, Pathology and Emergency Medicine. For help identifying available residencies and the process of residency matching, you can check out the AMA’s online database, named FREIDA for Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database Access. The National Resident Matching Program helps match available slots with the best applicants, after each applicant designates his/her preferred match(es).

As a medical resident, you’ll be getting the specialized training you need to perform your specialty on your own. You’ll work under the supervision of the attending physician at the hospital or medical facility where you practice; that physician is ultimately responsible for all the patients you treat. You’ll do the same thing you would as a practicing doctor in your field: patient exams, orders for diagnostic tests and treatments, admitting orders and consulting with patients’ physicians.

How much is a medical resident paid?

The salary a medical resident is paid isn’t meant as a reflection of his or her skills or training. It’s simply a “stipend,” if you will, to help pay the bills as he or she is fulfilling a residency. Remember, at this point, you won’t have a license to practice medicine, and as such, the hospital where you work can’t bill out for your work. But a typical salary during these years might be $40,000 to $50,000. Not enough to get that Maserati you have your eye on, so hold onto that thought a few years longer!

Check out these posts for more info:

Why would anyone choose DO vs MD?

Will getting into a top-tier medical school help me get a top-tier residency match?

Why would I want to pursue an MD/PhD degree?