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What is Medical School Residency?

“Residency” might be a term you’ve come across, but what actually is a medical school residency? Perhaps you want to know when do you complete this part of your training or where do you complete a medical residency. In this article, we’ll answer all those questions and more! 

When do you complete a medical residency? 

Let’s start by looking at when you complete a medical residency. Residency comes after you have completed medical school and your undergraduate degree. This means that if you apply to colleges to complete your undergraduate degree right now, you probably don’t need to be too concerned with this step of the process yet.  

However, it’s never too early to be familiar with all parts of the process. Below is a very brief overview of what the road from high school graduation to residency looks like. 

  • Step 1: Graduate high school and be accepted into a college or university 
  • Step 2: Complete your undergraduate degree, along with any necessary pre-med course requirements 
  • Step 3: Be accepted into an accredited MD or DO program
  • Step 4: Graduate medical school and be placed in a residency program 

Related: Medical intern vs. resident: What’s the difference?

What is residency? 

Are you wondering exactly what you do during a medical residency? Will you attend classes? Do you just work? Do you have to take more tests? The answer is yes, yes, and unfortunately, yes. Of course, every residency looks a little different, but there are several themes that remain the same. Below are some common components that make up the bulk of residency training.  

Medical residency classes 

You may attend classes that the hospital you work at either requires or offers for residents. They will differ from your medical school courses and likely be less frequent. However, classes will still be a part of your day to day life. 

Hands on learning

Residency is all about getting to actually work as a doctor, which means having real patients and real case loads to handle. During this time, you will work under the guidance of a more senior physician since you are not yet licensed. 

Under the guidance of the physician though, you will be able to perform real procedures, diagnose patients, and acquire practice performing the responsibilities of a fully licensed physician. 

Also see: Top 10 tuition-free medical schools

Medical certifications

Studying to pass exams during residency will be crucial to your success. During residency, you’ll prepare for licensing exams that allow you to  legally practice medicine when your residency is over. In addition, you’ll also take several other smaller exams, but we will get to those in greater detail in just a minute. 

Residency isn’t just more school though–it’s also a job that you will be getting paid to do. Establishing a work and life balance as a new resident can be a difficult task. Be gracious with yourself as you find this balance and remember that you aren’t alone. You’ll likely have plenty of peers alongside you who are going through the same things.  

Remember to  reach out to those peers who are further along in the process than you. Ask for advice and voice your struggles. People can only help if they know what’s going on! 

Also see: Medical residency vs internships

How do you obtain a medical residency?  

Just because you graduated medical school doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed a position as a resident doctor. Residency positions typically require you to apply and interview before being selected. Some medical schools closely affiliated with certain hospitals and clinics may have a guaranteed number of positions for graduates, but that is certainly not always the case. 

 Applying to residency positions may be something you begin doing as early as the fall semester during year three of medical school. Residency programs can be highly competitive and therefore require extensive materials to vet whether you would be a good candidate. This means you’ll need ample time to ensure that you get all the application materials sent in on time. 

 The specifics of applying to residency programs are something you will learn about throughout medical school. Experienced people such as your advisors and professors will be able to help you with this process. You’ll also have plenty of peers going through this process at the same time as you as well! 

Related: How to get into medical school with a low GPA

Exams for resident doctors  

Medical school is far from the end of exams for doctors. While you will technically have earned the title of “doctor” upon completing your MD or DO program, you will have to pass several exams in order to legally practice medicine as an individual. Let’s start with the first set of exams: the USMLE’s.

United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

During medical school, medical students must take a set of exams called the USMLE step 1 and step 2. “USMLE” stands for United States Medical Licensing Examination. However, there is also a step 3 USMLE that you will have to complete during residency.  

  • USMLE Step 1: Usually taken during your second year of medical school; the first part of this exam will cover the basics of science and medicine and how those concepts apply to patients 
  • USMLE Step 2: The second part of the USMLE is typically taken at the end of medical school and tests your clinical knowledge and patient assessment skills 
  • USMLE Step 3: This is what stands between you and becoming a fully practicing physician, which is why you typically wait to take this two day exam until you have completed a portion of your residency  

Once you’ve completed and passed all three of these exams, you’ll be licensed to practice medicine! However, there are still some other exams you should know about.  

Resident in-training exams 

Resident in-training exams are two exams that you will likely have to complete. They are not as rigorous as the USMLE’s, but they are still long, multiple choice tests that help assess where you are in your training. There are two resident in-training exams.  

  • American Board of Family Medicine In-Training Exam (ABFM-ITE)  
  • Internal Medicine In-Training Examination (IM-ITE) 

These exams are usually taken after you have completed some of your residency training. They cover all areas of medicine to help pinpoint what areas you may need to improve on before taking the USMLE step 3 or your board exams. When and where you take a resident in-training exam will be decided by your residency program.  

Medical boards

Last up on the docket are board exams! Maybe you’ve heard the term “boards” before; sometimes, the USMLE is referred to as boards. For the purposes of this article, boards and the USMLE are not the same thing.   

Board exams are a voluntary process, which means you don’t have to take them! They are based on your specialty and are there to add an added level of accreditation to individuals who would like to do so. After you complete your boards, you are considered a “board certified physician.” 

Whether or not taking your boards is right for you depends upon many factors. The cost of taking your board exams can become quite expensive, reaching upwards of several thousand dollars. It is best to speak with senior physicians in your residency program and ask them about what they recommend.  

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Residency is one of your last big steps before becoming a fully licensed physician  
  • During residency you will have to balance a hefty schedule of working and studying, which may require a lot of trial and error before you find the right balance 
  • Plenty of people have gone through the residency process before, take advantage of those around you by asking for advice and any questions that you have 
  • There are a lot of moving pieces in the process to become a doctor. Take them one at a time and trust the process!
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about medical school residency

Where do you complete a medical residency?

Medical residencies are traditionally completed in a hospital or clinic. Again, the specialty that you choose will have a large impact on the location in which your residency is completed. A surgical residency may happen in a fast-paced trauma hospital, while an internal medicine resident may spend their days in a clinic setting.

Are residents paid?

Yes, resident doctors are paid. However, salaries for resident doctors vary based on many factors, such as location, specialty and hours. On average a medical resident in the US will make $57,000 a year, coming out to roughly $27 an hour.

How many hours do resident doctors work?

Resident doctors may work between 40-80 hours a week depending upon their specialty. First year residents are not allowed to work longer than 16 hours at a time, while more senior residents may work up to 24 hours at a time.
If you’re worried that you read that correctly, you did. Resident doctors work long hours during their first few years in the field, but most find ways to make it manageable!

How long is a medical residency?

  The length of your medical residency depends upon what specialty you go into. A family medicine residency may only last three years, while a surgical residency may last up to seven years.

What certification do you have to practice medicine upon graduating medical school?

Students who graduate medical school and enter an accredited residency program are issued what is called a training certificate. This allows residents to legally practice medicine under the supervision of other fully licensed physicians. The finer details of this process will vary by state. Your medical school and residency will be there to help you with this process when the day comes for you to start your residency!

What is an internship versus a residency?

You may have heard the terms residency and internship used interchangeably. During your first year of residency, you are considered an intern. So, interns are residents in their first year of residency. 

What does “PGY” mean?

During your research, you may have come across the letters “PGY.” PGY stands for postgraduate year or program year. It is typically followed by a number representing how many years post-graduation you are. Residents completing their first year of residency, their internship, are considered PGY1s, while those in their second year of residency are considered PGY2s.
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