What is a medical residency program and what to expect?
Medical school is just the first step toward becoming a doctor. Medical school will give you a good basis for the theoretical knowledge you need, but you’ll also need hands-on experience from a residency.
A residency program will allow you to see what it’s like to work in medicine first-hand and will give you practical insight into the rest of your career as an aspiring doctor.
It’s normal to have questions about medical residencies, whether you are finishing medical school or just about to start a medical program. If you’re asking yourself 'what is residency in medical school?’, or ‘how does a residency program work?' then read on to find out everything you need to know.
What is a medical residency?
Medical residency is where you go into a hospital or clinic in order to get hands-on training. You will do a medical residency after medical school. You can study general fields of medicine and more specialized subjects during your medical residency.
The first year of a medical residency is called an internship. During this, you will be rotating through different types of medicine to get a broad range of experience. For the later years of a residency, students will do some core residency modules but can also pick to study areas they were interested in. This means that the difference between an intern and a resident is mostly the amount of experience they have and whether they are working on rotation or in a specific area.
At the start of your residency, you will be assigned beginner tasks, and you will have close contact with senior residents and doctors. As your experience and skills increase, you’ll be given more complex tasks to complete, including dealing with patients alone at some points.
How long is medical residency?
The length of your medical residency depends on what specific area of medicine you want to focus on. For example, a family practice residency would last two years. If you want to specialize in surgery, neurology, or cardiology, the residency program may last five or more years due to the complexity of the subject.
Do you earn a salary as a medical resident?
Unpaid internships are common in a lot of areas, but most residency programs are paid. The salary range is dependent on where you match and in what area.
Do you have to do a residency after medical school?
Whether or not you have to do a residency depends on your area of specialty. Many areas require you to have completed an internship to become a general practitioner. Other specialist roles will often require you to have completed a full residency in that field.
What’s the difference between a medical resident and a student?
A medical resident will often be doing the normal duties of a doctor while under supervision from a senior. A student will only be in a hospital for their clinical rotation, and they will primarily be listening, watching, and assisting a mentor, rather than taking on their own duties.
This doesn't mean that you're done learning when you reach residency. The goal of a residency is to continue your healthcare education and provide direct care to patients. This includes diagnosing, managing, and treating health conditions. You’ll gain more hands-on experience, engage in active learning alongside your study and receive mentorship from experienced doctors in your chosen field.
What are the requirements for medical residency?
Most medical residencies will list their program requirements for applicants on their website. Common entry criteria include the year you graduate from medical school, having any necessary visas and the results of any attempts on the licensing exam.
It's important to check the entry requirements for a residency you are applying for in plenty of time. It might take a while to gather the necessary information or any visas you need, so you should give yourself plenty of time.
What happens during internship and residency
During the first year – the internship – you will rotate through different specialties, or through different important areas for your chosen medical path. This will help you get experience and skills to build your medical career.
The internship is designed to give MDs a chance to experience work in a clinical setting, as well as let them explore different areas and find out what type of medicine is right for them. A resident will work in a lot of different fields, including the ER, pediatrics, orthopedics, OB/GYN, and surgery.
After the first year of your medical residency ends, you will become a full resident and can specialize more in your chosen field.
Don’t forget that you’ll also need to keep up with your studies at home. It can be hard to find a good balance between everything you have to do, including the hands-on experience, mentored study, and your home study.
What could I end up doing during a residency for medical school?
As a medical resident, your tasks may include:
- Assessing and monitoring patients’ ongoing condition
- Performing physical examinations
- Asking for patient history and identifying relevant information
- Doing rounds of the ward
- Requesting scans, bloodwork and other tests
- Developing treatment plans
- Filing paperwork such as discharge papers, progress notes, observations and procedure notes
- Ordering medications
- Communicating with patients and their families about their condition and progress
You will generally be supervised while doing these tasks, though you will be trusted with more tasks as you progress through your residency.
How much do medical residents work?
Medical residents usually work between 40 and 80 hours a week, though this depends on what field or clinical setting they are in. Interns typically work no more than 16 hours continuously. Senior residents might work a maximum of 24 hours continuously.
In order to stay alert and focused, you will need to get used to taking good care of yourself, including napping when possible.
How to succeed in a residency
Residency can be difficult and tiring. The hours are long, and you will not be as closely monitored compared to medical schools or during clinical rotations. However, the skills and experience you gain are invaluable.
It's vital to make sure you know how to succeed despite these difficult conditions. Our top advice for success is:
- Always be open to knowledge – Even if something doesn’t seem relevant to your specialty, be sure to study hard. Everything you learn will be useful in your career as a doctor.
- Be kind and professional – In your career, you’ll see a lot of people at their worst. This can be challenging, but you should always try to be understanding and remain professional towards your patients.
- Remember why you want to be a doctor— Residency can be hard, and you’ll have less feedback on how well you’re doing. This can make it hard for people to stay motivated. Remember why you’re here, and stay focused.
- Focus on self-care — You can avoid burn outs by making sure your diet, sleep, hygiene and exercise are all in check.
- Seek help if you need it — You’re not alone. You can talk to other residents, doctors, or even specialists if you are struggling.
Find your path to becoming a doctor with St Matthews's University
St Matthew's University School of Medicine aims to match students with their chosen residencies in the US and Canada. If you're looking to apply to medical school, our webinar and in-person events can answer any questions you may have, and help you get on the path to studying medicine and completing a residency to become a fully licensed doctor. You can also contact us for any other help you need.