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Medical Residency Length by Specialty

June 24, 2022
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Factors That Affect Residency LengthHow Long Is Medical Residency?


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/13/22

When deciding on which residency program you might want to attend, you need to think about how long it will take. Learn the medical residency length for any specialty. 

Medical residency length depends on what specialty you decide to pursue. Some specialties are longer as you need more expertise in complicated medical treatment or procedures. Take surgery, for example, that has a medical residency length of at least five years. This would make sense as you would not want someone in charge of operating on your body without a long time to learn the skill needed for the job. 

This article will provide the medical residency length for each specialty and the factors that contribute to how long the medical residency programs are. 

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Factors That Affect Residency Length

The main factor that affects residency length is how specialized the field is. For example, a general surgeon will have a shorter residency length than a neurosurgeon. The anatomy that you need to know for a neurosurgeon is a lot more complicated and extensive than that of a general surgeon, which is why there is a difference in residency length.

Another factor that goes into medical residency length is if the program requires you to take a transitional year between medical school and the specialization. Some programs require their residents to do medical training that is more general in scope before they subspecialize. That would mean that you would have to add a year to the medical residency length.

Something to take note of before looking at how long the medical residency program is that the length might differ depending on which medical school and hospital you get matched to. Though the length of programs tends to follow conventional terms, some programs might have longer or shorter programs depending on where you do your training. 

It is also important to know which programs require further training in the form of fellowships. For certain specialties, you will be expected to do a fellowship program after your residency, meaning more training and time before you are considered a fully qualified doctor in that field. 

All of these factors are important to remember when deciding on a specialty program. You might want to think about your life and what you want for the next five to ten years before making the final decision.

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How Long Is Medical Residency?

Now that we have gone through the factors that affect the length of residency, let's look at the numbers.

The following list is from the American Medical Association (AMA) and represents what you should expect when looking at medical residency length.

Three years:

Three/four years (depending on program):

Four years:

Five years:

Six years:

Seven years:

This list gives you the most up-to-date information on residency length for specialization, but always remember to check with individual programs for the exact number.

Final Thoughts

Picking a specialization in medical school can be a difficult decision. Before you commit to a particular specialization, it is good to know exactly what you are getting into. By looking at the medical residency length, you might be able to find a specialization that fit into your life plan.

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