What Is a Medical Resident? Everything You Need to Know


Beginning the journey to become a doctor is marked by various significant milestones, but none quite as transformative as the residency phase. So, what is a medical resident? In simple terms, they are the bridge between academic study and real-world medical practice. These dedicated professionals are medical school graduates who dive deep into their chosen specialties and hone their skills under the supervision of experienced doctors.

In this blog post, we introduce you to this critical phase in a doctor’s journey, as we explore what a medical resident is, what training is required before enrolling in a residency, and what to expect after. Read on to learn more!

What Is a Medical Resident?

A medical resident is a physician who undergoes specialized training after completing medical school. Every Doctor of Medicine (MD) must complete medical residency as a post-graduate training to become a board-certified specialist in the field. It’s like shadowing a doctor, but this time, you’re swapping roles—you perform medical tasks while a senior doctor supervises you.

Residency provides in-depth training, allowing aspiring doctors to acquire advanced knowledge in patient care. It also enables them to peek into the life of a doctor, exploring opportunities for enhanced communication with patients, personal and professional growth, mentorship and networking, and research. 

What Does a Medical Resident Do?

Each medical residency is unique, depending on the chosen field. However, all medical residents undertake common duties and tasks during their program.

Patient care is a primary duty, which requires talking to patients, overviewing their medical records, developing treatment plans, and following up on their progress. The records are often shared during rounds, where medical residents and the rest of the crew discuss a patient’s condition, treatment plan, and progress. Depending on their specialty, residents may also perform or assist in various medical procedures. For example, surgical residents could assist in or perform (minor) surgeries under supervision. Other tasks include on-call duties, interpreting diagnostic tests, and research.  

Education and Training

There are certain steps that must be completed before entering a medical residency program.

1. Complete a Medical Degree: This means becoming an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

2. Pass Licensing Examinations: In the U.S., this would be the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) for DOs.

3. Match to a Residency Program: It’s important to ensure the residency program you choose aligns with your future goals. In exchange, residency programs also look for applicants they believe would be a great fit.

Upon entering the residency, you will perform clinical rotations, which involve specialized training, and fulfill your practice hours under the supervision of a senior doctor. Medical residents also attend lectures, workshops, and seminars to enhance their theoretical knowledge and stay updated with the latest advancements in their field. Another crucial component is conducting research and encouraging residents to contribute to the medical field. 

The duration of the program depends on the specialty. Primary care specialties, including family doctors and pediatrics, require 3-4 years of residency training in the U.S., whereas surgical specialties, for example, will often require 5-7 years of residency. 

What Happens after Medical Residency?


Completing a medical residency will pave the way for other opportunities to further advance your knowledge and skills in the medical field. You can enroll in fellowship training, obtain board certification, enter clinical practice, or pursue a subspecialization program.

Fellowship Training

Medicine fellowship programs are advanced training courses for doctors who want to specialize in a specific area after completing their medical residency. These programs help doctors gain deep knowledge and hands-on experience in their chosen specialty, making them experts. For example, after becoming a general doctor, one can select a fellowship in cardiology to become a heart expert, oncology to focus on cancer treatment, or pediatrics to specialize in children’s health. These specialized programs involve working closely with experienced doctors, treating patients, and sometimes conducting research to improve healthcare.

Board Certification

Board certification is a special recognition doctors get to show they are experts in a specific medical area. After finishing medical school and extra training in their chosen field, doctors take an exam. Passing this exam proves they have deep knowledge and skills in that specialty, like heart care or children’s health. Being board-certified is essential because it tells patients, hospitals, and other doctors that this doctor is highly qualified and can be trusted to provide excellent care. It’s a way for doctors to show they are committed to being the best in their field.


After finishing medical residency, some doctors start working in actual healthcare settings, which is called entering clinical practice. Some choose hospitals where they can take care of patients with many types of illnesses. Others join group practices, where several doctors work together and share the work, like seeing patients and making decisions about their care. There are also academic institutions, like medical schools, where doctors not only treat patients but also teach medical students and do research to find new ways to improve health. Each setting offers unique opportunities for doctors to use their skills and help people.


Further specialization within a specialty, or subspecialization, is when doctors choose to deepen their expertise in a highly specific area of medicine following the completion of their initial specialty training. For example, a heart doctor might want to specialize in treating heart rhythm problems. To do this, they undergo additional training or courses and sometimes take more exams to get extra certifications. This extra step helps them gain more profound knowledge and skills in that narrow area, making them super-specialists.

How Much Do Medical Residents Make?

The salary range for medical residents varies widely based on factors such as location, specialty, and level of training. In the United States, the average salary for a medical resident in 2024 is reported to be around $53,900, with a range from $51,000 to $59,000. 

Location plays a significant role in salaries, as the cost of living and demand for doctors vary across different areas. For instance, salaries can be higher in places with a higher cost of living or where there’s a greater need for medical professionals. The type of specialty also influences pay, with specific medical fields offering higher salaries due to their complexity or demand. Lastly, the level of training affects earnings because as residents progress through their training years, they typically see salary increases to reflect their growing experience and expertise. 

Bottom Line

Graduating medical school does not solidify the end of the journey for most aspiring doctors. Those interested in further advancing their knowledge and skills enroll in medical residency programs, allowing them to later become board certified. If you’re among those professionals, you must remember to fulfill all requirements before applying for residency and be prepared for the steps that follow after completing it. Keep in mind that salaries are competitive for medical residents, and the program itself provides spiritual fulfillment as you help those in need. Use this time as a preparation for your next step: becoming a senior doctor.

Are you looking to complete a medical residency in the future? Check out our program for specialized training in the medical field. We help students lay a groundwork of knowledge for medical school entry. Medical school is difficult, but we make it easier!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

How is a resident different from a doctor?

A resident is a licensed doctor who, after graduating from medical school, undergoes specialized training in a specific field of medicine. Unlike fully independent physicians, residents work in hospitals under the supervision of more experienced doctors.

Is a resident a real doctor?

Yes, a resident is a real doctor. They have completed medical school and earned their medical degree, making them licensed physicians. However, they are in a stage of further training within their chosen specialty.

How long is one a medical resident?

The length of medical residency varies by specialty, typically ranging from 3 to 7 years. The duration depends on the complexity and requirements of the chosen field.

What is the shortest residency?

The shortest residency programs are those in family medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine, which typically last about 3 years.

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