What is a “medical resident?” And what does a medical resident do? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about being a resident.
If you’re beginning your med school journey, you may wonder what the medical resident definition is. We’ll review everything you need to know about medical residents, from salary to work hours and more.
A medical resident is a doctor in training. Becoming a medical resident means you’ve graduated med school and are training with licensed physicians in your specialization. For example, a medical resident who wants to become a pediatrician would complete their residency at a pediatric clinic.
Residency training means participating in a graduate medical education (GME) program. Once a doctor in training has completed their GME and passed all three steps of the USMLE, they’re ready to become a practicing physician.
Medical residents spend their first year as interns, working in a clinic or hospital under close supervision. After their first year, residents have more freedom concerning:
GME programs allow students to practice medicine on real patients. The goal is to bridge the gap between student and doctor with exposure to everyday life as a medical professional.
So, what does a medical resident do? Let’s look at a day in the life of a medical resident. According to Kunal Sindhu, MD, a typical day starts with a 7-7:30 am “sign out.” The overnight resident fills in the morning resident on patients, and then the morning resident gets to work.
After signing out, medical residents begin rounds and discuss patients with the attending physician. After rounds, daily work begins for medical residents. What you do during residency can include:
A medical resident’s primary job is to learn. Most medical residents have a lecture period during the day dedicated to conferences and education. The rest of the shift is used for residents to complete tasks before leaving.
Residents practice medicine under the supervision of an attending physician. Much of the day is spent following the lead of senior doctors and taking notes. If a patient is aware a resident would like to perform a procedure and the patient agrees, residents are allowed to do so under supervision.
Prospective doctors must complete a residency before becoming physicians. Typically, med students try to match with a residency in their fourth year of med school.
There are several matching programs to help you find the perfect match. The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) is the most popular, though many others cater to specialty-specific matching.
Students must determine which specialty they’re interested in. Residencies place students in clinics or hospital departments that practice their chosen specialty.
Residency lengths vary by program, though they typically take three and seven years to complete. How long residencies are depend on the time required to learn and implement the art of a specialty.
The shortest (and some of the least competitive) residencies include family medicine, while longer programs are related to surgical practice. Some specialties are more popular and may take longer due to limited availability.
Surgical residencies are the longest programs due to the training’s complexity. Residents aren’t allowed to perform full surgeries, so hands-on learning in surgical programs may be more limited than others.
Though making connections to your future residency through school staff is possible, most students use the NRMP. However, there are other options. Here’s a list of matching residency resources:
These are the most popular matching services used in North America, though some medical areas may have their own matching services.
Salaries for medical residents vary by specialty, just as for fully licensed doctors. Geography can also affect how much a resident makes.
In a survey conducted by the AAMC, residents reported receiving an average $60,942 physician stipend in their first year, which grew in their fourth year to $68,711. Typically, residents are eligible for benefits. Once you become a doctor, you can earn much more.
Residents may be eligible for student tax breaks depending on where the program is based. While many countries consider a resident an employee, some states classify a medical resident as a student.
The long working hours for residents are widely discussed among medical students. Some doctors have reported barely seeing sunlight in their first year of residency, though there are restrictions to limit shift lengths.
In a memo posted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the organization reaffirmed a maximum of 80 hours weekly with a mandatory day off. This was said to realistically frame “real world” work hours while allowing adequate time for rest.
The memo also states a 24-hour cap on a single work shift, emphasizing that this number is a “ceiling, not a floor.” The maximum permitted isn’t to be confused with the expectation.
There are resources and organizations to ensure the safety and well-being of medical residents. The following list has resources within them to guide residents through their programs.
The American Medical Association (AMA) is “the largest and only national association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders.”
Medical residents can find information on leadership and committee opportunities and representation in courts and legislative bodies through the AMA.
Resident Doctors of Canada (RDoC) is a not-for-profit organization founded to provide a unified voice for its members. They aim to “optimize the ongoing education and professional development of resident doctors, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the best health and care for patients.”
The RDoC offers volunteer opportunities for residents who want to participate in shaping their training environment. They have several provincial partners, so residents across Canada can access their services.
The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) is the largest and oldest independent association for doctors-in-training in the U.S. Its goal is to empower student leadership and improve the medical student experience. Their website offers insights into several student-based:
They also have a calendar where students can see scheduled events in upcoming months, with opportunities to get involved.
The Emergency Medicine Residents Association (EMRA) aims to help residents, students, fellows, and alumni become great doctors with resources such as:
EMRA offers job-finding assistance to its members. To become a member, one must also be a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).
These organizations are teeming with helpful resources. There are typically on-campus or on-site resources for residents to contact with questions surrounding residency.
In the words of Albany Med, “An ‘intern’ is a physician in their first-year of residency after graduating from Medical School.” There is no difference between a medical resident versus an intern; an intern is just a first-year medical resident.
After their “intern” phase, residents typically receive a pay raise and more benefits. The further a resident is in their program, the more responsibilities they’re given.
The duties and freedoms of an attending vs. a resident are different. A medical resident is a doctor in training. Doctors are fully licensed and have completed a residency program. Residents are in the process of earning their licenses and haven’t yet completed their residency, which is usually an essential step to becoming a doctor.
Some states don’t require doctors to complete more than one year of a residency program to practice medicine. This policy has been adopted to address doctor shortages throughout the U.S. Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma have enacted these measures.
Many of America’s most influential healthcare organizations oppose these measures and believe a three to seven-year residency program is necessary. The American Medical Association opposed the notion, stating more funding would increase residency positions and address the doctor shortage.
You have a few options you can pursue after you complete your residency program. One option is to pursue a fellowship. Fellowships allow you to pursue a subspeciality within the specialty you learned in residency. These programs typically last one to three years.
After receiving their medical license, many doctors choose to become board-certified. According to the AMA, becoming board-certified is optional though many employers expect it.
After becoming board-certified, many physicians work in hospitals or private practices. After your residency is over, you’re ready to practice medicine without another’s physician’s oversight!
If you still have questions about medical residency, read on to learn more.
Medical residency programs are three to seven-year programs that transform med school graduates into doctors. Students are matched with a workplace to study and practice with physicians. Residency training prepares students to become board-certified physicians.
Though not all matching programs use the same method, the NRMP uses a mathematical algorithm to place applicants into appropriate residency and fellowship positions. This unique algorithm was awarded a Nobel prize in 2012 and is widely regarded as the most efficient matching method available today.
A medical resident is a doctor in training. Residents are allowed to practice medicine under a physician’s supervision.
The legal definition varies by state. Though widely debated, medical residents are generally recognized as employees rather than students. However, residents are considered students in some states.
A residency’s length depends on the state, program, and specialty. The University of Washington in St. Louis provides a list of program lengths by medical specialty that can be used as a frame of reference:
The specialty you choose dictates the length of your residency.
An attending physician is a doctor who has completed med school and residency training. They are board-certified in their specialty and appointed by their hospital to overview patient care and make decisions. Medical residents are doctors in training who work alongside attending physicians.
Surgical residents don’t perform entire operations but can perform smaller parts of an operation under a surgeon’s supervision. Throughout their training, residents are given more opportunities to practice surgery. By the last year of a surgical residency, residents should be capable of performing an entire surgery.
No, some hospitals don’t have residents. While there are over 1,000 teaching hospitals in the country, they are part of more than 6,000 total hospitals.
A medical resident has completed a medical degree and is training to become a doctor in a residency program. The duties and freedoms of an attending physician versus a resident are different.
After completing your residency program, you can become a board-certified attending physician. With patience and hard work, you can make the most of your residency program and become an excellent physician!