For Medical Students, what does Residency Mean?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Medical residency is a post graduate education program for medical students which allows them to refine their training in a particular medical discipline and practice skills in a real world environment. Residency is an important part of training for physicians, and lasts between three and seven years, depending on the specialty. It can also be a very stressful period, as medical residents traditionally work long hours in sometimes very intense environments.

In medical school, a future doctor gains a great deal of general knowledge. Towards the end of medical school, students typically go on rotations to experience varying medical specialties for short periods, usually a few weeks. During these rotations, students can see if a particular specialty is of interest. Students then apply to programs in the discipline that they are interested in. If the program is interested in the student, it will an offer an interview.

After applying and interviewing for multiple programs, a medical student submits a ranked list of programs, while residency programs submit ranked lists of students. These lists are run through a central computer which is supposed to match students with programs. The goal of the match is to get every student into a training program, but not all medical students and programs match. If this is the case, students are forced to apply for the remaining open positions, which can sometimes result in a change of medical field.


In the first year of residency, a student is known as an intern. Technically, he or she has qualified as a doctor, but is not yet permitted to practice. Under the supervision of trained doctors, the student learns about the chosen specialty and starts to perform basic procedures. Medical training is hands on, and by their senior year, many residents are largely independent. Some students are asked to stay on for another year to assist junior residents. All medical residents are under the supervision of an attending physician.

Residency can be an all-absorbing activity, as residents are constantly on call and they are expected to work long, sometimes grueling hours. Reforms in the way residency programs were handled were undertaken in the late twentieth century, due to concern about sleep deprivation having a negative impact on the ability of residents to function. After completing residency, a student is eligible to take the qualifying board exams. A successful pass allows the resident to become a full fledged doctor, licensed to practice in the state or province where the exams were taken.


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Post 3

Oasis11- I always thought it would be really cool to do an anesthesiology residency. An anesthesiology residency is a four year program.

For example, at Columbia University Medical Center, the new interns learn basic anesthesiology skills the first month. Then they do rotations that are two and four weeks long.

The second year in their residency, they begin to specialize by rotating between the various departments such as the obstetrics and pediatrics.

Post 2

Latte31-I agree with you. I think it's really amazing how some of these residents become doctors.

I have a friend that got accepted to the John Hopkins pediatric residency and he really enjoys it. They get five weeks vacation a year.

They get one week off at Christmas and choose separate two-week vacations throughout the year. They also get full medical insurance, life insurance maternity and paternity leave, long-term disability and dental insurance.

An intern which is a first-year resident earns about a $46,000 and 2nd year resident earns about $49,000. A 30 year resident earns $50,900.

There is generally a rotation requirement that allows the resident to learn various aspects of medical care for children. This includes resuscitation and bereavement.

Post 1

I have to agree that the residency requirements are very difficult. For example a neurosurgery residency lasts about seven years beyond medical school.

It is a one year internship and six years of practical experience. This field is highly competitive as the neurosurgery department at NYU medical school only accepts 2 to 3 applicants a year.

Many of the newer surgery residents actually perform surgery at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital. This hands-on experience at NYU medical neurosurgery program is one of the reasons why many seek to be trained in this facility.

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