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.