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A Guide To The Shortest Residencies (Because We Know It’s A Long Road)

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Medical school is cool, but have you tried getting hands-on experience working with patients in your specialty? On-the-job experience is a vital reason behind the residency portion of a physician’s education. Not only does it get you closer to practicing in the field you love, but it also makes you a better physician by honing your patient care skills. 

Residency is full of valuable learning moments and in-person patient care, which is required for licensure. So, all aspiring doctors must take this step before getting certified by the board and applying for their license to practice legally. 

Medical students commence residency after four years of their undergraduate degree and four years of medical school. So, it’s natural to wonder how much longer you’ll have to work toward getting your license. 

We know you’ll go for the specialization that interests you the most no matter how long it takes, but this article will give you a good idea of what to expect. Whenever you’re heading off on a long journey, it’s best to go in prepared.  

Residency length

The shortest residencies take around three years and the longest, seven. The complexity of your specialization determines the number of years you’ll spend shadowing experienced doctors while providing patient care. As you might imagine, this puts residencies for sensitive work like neurosurgery at the top of the list and residences for more generalized medical specialties like family care at the bottom. 

What’s the shortest residency program?


If you have your heart set on a certain specialty and can’t wait to start practicing, we’re sure you’re hoping to see your future field on this list. The following are some of the shortest residencies, along with the number of years you’ll spend in them: 

  • Family medicine: 3 years
  • Internal medicine: 3 years
  • Pediatrics: 3 years
  • Anesthesiology: 4 years
  • Dermatology: 4 years
  • Neurology: 4 years
  • Ophthalmology: 4 years
  • Physical medicine: 4 years
  • Emergency medicine: 3-4 years
  • Obstetrics-gynecology: 4 years
  • Pathology: 4 years
  • Psychiatry: 4 years

Perhaps you’re not settled on a career path and want to do a bit of strategic thinking about your job outlook. After all, those student loans add up. Wondering what the shortest residency with the highest pay is? It’s emergency medicine, followed by obstetrics-gynecology. Physicians in these roles earn around $270,000 annually. So, after the relatively short ob-gyn or emergency medicine residency,  you stand to earn a high salary (and hit the ground running as a licensed physician). 

What’s the longest residency program? 

The longest residency periods are those that last more than five years. All this training is, well, worth it because you’ll start your career with the confidence you need to succeed in highly specialized fields of medicine. Here are some of the longest residency periods. 

  • Diagnostic radiology: 5 years
  • Radiation oncology: 5 years
  • General surgery: 5 years
  • Orthopedic surgery:  5 years 
  • Otolaryngology: 5 years 
  • Urology: 5 years
  • Plastic surgery: 6 years
  • Neurosurgery: 7 years 

No wonder people joke about brain surgery is one of the most challenging tasks. With the longest residency period of all the specialties, it takes to-be neurosurgeons around 15 years in total to complete their studies. But, at the end of that long road, brain surgeons perform life-saving surgeries and are rewarded with an incredible salary of roughly $750,000 per year.

Do you get paid during residency? 

Medical school is expensive, and it may be difficult to hold a part-time job with all the studying. Doctors are paid well for their work, but only once they start to practice, which may be a date well into the future for those doing long residencies

Residents are an essential part of the healthcare system because they help provide patient care, just under supervision. So, you may be wondering if they are paid for this work. They are, but minimally. The residency salary is around $60,000 in the first year and increments a bit each year. 

The long journey to becoming a doctor


There are many roads to becoming a doctor. Some may start with a pre-med program in their undergraduate career, get an awesome Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, immediately attend medical school and move directly into residency. Others take breaks or change courses. All routes are valid, including those where individuals realize the career is not for them. Even residency lengths can vary greatly, charting vastly different courses for individuals in the same field. For example, the cardiology residency length starts at six years (including the fellowship portion) but can run much longer. 

Here are the traditional milestones one has to accomplish to become a physician: 

  • Undergraduate degree (four years): Many opt for a pre-med program, which features various scientific coursework that helps students prepare for the MCAT, which determines their readiness for the next step in their education. 
  • Medical school (four years): During this stage, students advance their studies in science and medicine and clinically rotate to experience different specialties in healthcare. This stage should prepare medical students well for what follows, i.e., deciding what type of residency training to choose. 
  • Medical residency (3-7 years): In this final step before earning board certification and licensure, future doctors gain hands-on experience in their chosen specialty under the mentorship of veteran physicians. 

We’re here to support you in your medical career in whatever way we can. Whether your question is “how long is a residency for pediatrics” or “how long should my scrub pants be,” we’ve got an answer! 

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