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Medical Residency Programs - Resident Physician Training Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a resident physician. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and clinical practice to find out if this is the career for you.

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Becoming a resident physician requires a high level of education and is very competitive. Read this article for more information about how to become a resident physician, typical job duties, and salary and career information.

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  • Medicine - MD

Essential Information

Resident physicians are recent medical school graduates, and these individuals enter residency programs to gain specialized clinical training in their chosen medical field of practice. Typically, medical residency training is a joint offering between universities and hospitals, although some programs are offered exclusively through teaching hospitals.

To get into residency programs, individuals must hold Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees. Medical students generally apply for residency programs about a year before they earn their M.D.s. The residency program process is mandatory for all medical students looking to become practicing physicians or surgeons. Residency programs vary in length, depending on the medical field of specialty, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most residency programs last anywhere from 3-8 years.

Since medical graduates enter residency programs to become doctors, the following table contains information based on career statistics for physicians and surgeons.

Required Education Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Other Requirements Complete residency program(s) in field of specialty
Licensure Required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14%*
Average Salary (2014) Primary Care $241,273, Medical Specialties $411,852*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

General Duties

The usual work week for resident physicians is about 80 hours, which may be averaged over four weeks. Residents must average one day off in seven within a four week period and are allowed ten hours off between daily shifts and after in-house calls. Besides training and diagnosing patients, residents also attend lecture courses. Residents also learn the administrative side of their field, including protocols for updating and inputting medical records.

Clinical Instruction

Resident physicians treat patients under the supervision of experienced specialists and gain more autonomy with each year of residency. Depending on the residency program, they may be required to do clinical rotations at several hospitals. Residents who choose a particular specialty usually complete one year in a general or internal medicine residency followed by approximately 3-8 years of more focused study. Subspecialties require additional years of training.

Didactic Instruction

Medical residency programs require lecture-based instruction, often referred to as didactic instruction, in addition to clinical work. Various topics are discussed in these lectures, such as diseases, geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology and medical ethics. For example, a residency in orthopedic medicine may include lectures, classes or tutorials on subjects such as the upper extremity, sports medicine and traumatic orthopedic injury. Resident neurologists and neurosurgeons may focus on issues such as neurosurgical rehabilitation, epilepsy, neuroimmunology and vascular disorders of the brain.

As a resident physician, you could be working in a wide range of medical specialities or general care, training at hospitals under the supervision of specialists. Residencies can take up to a decade or more to complete, depending on the specialty pursued. While it is extremely competitive and requires a high level of education, the job field for physicians is projected to grow in the next ten years, and has a high median salary.

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