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    Medical Intern vs. Resident: What’s the Difference?

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: February 6th, 2024
    Medical Intern vs. Resident: What’s the Difference?

    Intern, resident, or fellow: whether you’re a medical student or not, you’ve probably heard all of these terms at one point or another. However, what these terms mean is not always clear. In this article, we’ll walk through a breakdown of medical internship vs residency, as well as fellowships, what they mean and how you accomplish each one!  

    Don’t miss: Top 10 tuition-free medical schools

    What is an intern?

    Definition of a medical intern 

    In the most basic terms, an intern is a medical school graduate who is in their first year of residency training at a clinic or hospital.  

    How you get there

    The definition of an intern tells you that this is something you do after you have graduated medical school. That means if you’re applying to undergraduate programs or even medical schools right now, it’s still pretty far in the future for you.  

    Being accepted into a residency program won’t just happen automatically. Once you are an upperclassman in medical school, you will begin the application process for residency programs. Some residences may even require that you apply during your third year of med school. 

    What you do 

    A residency program is essentially the next piece of your training as a doctor after medical school. As a first-year intern, you will be learning a lot, which means things might still feel a lot like medical school. Working under a senior physician who is either a fully practicing medical doctor or osteopathic doctor, you will study a more general area of medicine involving real patients in a hospital or clinical setting.  

    What is a resident?

    Definition of a medical resident

    A resident is any rising doctor who has completed at least one year of their residency training. From now until the end of your residency, you are simply considered a resident, whether it’s year two or year seven.  

    How you get there 

    Getting here is the same as how you become an intern, except you’re a year further along in the process!  

    What you do

    During this year, you most likely will be given more responsibility as senior physicians observe your skills and abilities with patients. For some residency programs, this is when you begin to narrow in on your desired specialty.  

    For example, cardiology residents may actually spend the first year of their residency studying internal medicine in order to gain a broader understanding of the body. Then, in year two, they may work mainly with cardiology patients.  

    It’s during residency that you will study for and take  the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). When passed, the USMLE awards you the proper licensing to legally practice medicine. If you haven’t heard of the USMLE, that’s okay. It’s something you will become very familiar with in medical school when you take steps one and two.  

    Also see: How to attend medical school for free guide

    What is a fellow?

    Definition of a medical fellow

    A fellow is a doctor who has completed their residency and opted to complete additional training that is called a fellowship. Fellowships are usually found in highly specialized areas of medicine and last between one and three years.  

    How you get there 

    In order to become a fellow, you first need to complete a full residency program. Not every specialty will require that you complete a fellowship program; typically, highly specialized areas of medicine may require them.  

    Surgeons often complete fellowships in specialties like orthopedics and cardiology. Because they are less common than residency positions, they can be highly competitive to get into. Fellowships usually consist of fellows being taught by some of the top doctors in their field.  

    Related: What is a stipend and how do they work?

    What you do

    You will still be learning during a fellowship, but you will also be a fully licensed physician at this point. This means you will be getting paid to do everything that a regular physician would. You may even have some residents under your wing by this point!  

    Related: Medical school scholarships 

    How long is residency?  

    Now that you know what the term “residency” means and the differences between internships vs residency, you’re probably wondering how long you have to be a resident. The answer varies, but you can be a resident anywhere from three to seven years. Seven years is less common and is reserved for specialties like neuro and cardiac surgeons. Specialties like emergency medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics will take you between three and four years to complete.  

    As we mentioned above, you may spend your residency training in more than one area. Starting out in a broad field and then spending the following years on more specialized areas of medicine is common.

    Don’t miss: How to get into med school with a low GPA

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Intern, resident, and fellow are all terms used to describe how far along someone is in their medical training after graduating medical school 
    • An intern is a resident in their first year of training after medical school 
    • Fellowships can be highly competitive and are designed for highly specialized training in a particular area of medicine
    • The process of going from intern to resident to potentially a fellow is a long process since important training happens during that timeline
    Key Takeaways

    Frequently asked questions about medical intern vs. resident

    Do you get paid during residency?

    Yes, resident doctors are paid! However, it’s usually not a lot of money for the number of hours worked. Pay usually increases with each year of training.  

    Do you become a doctor after residency?

    Yes and no, as it depends how you define the word “doctor”. When you graduate from medical school, you have a degree in medicine and are technically a doctor. However, you are not legally able to practice medicine until after you have passed the proper exams and received accreditation from the state you plan to practice in.  

    During residency, doctors receive a training certificate until they pass their exams. A training certificate allows you to practice medicine under the supervision of a senior physician.   

    Do you have to complete a residency to become a medical doctor?

    A residency is required in the United States if you plan to practice medicine. However, there are lots of other jobs within the medical field that do not require you to complete a residency. Some people may teach after medical school, while others may go into research positions.

    Also see: How to get an internship

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