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How Long Is Residency?

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Are you a medical student coming up on your medical residency and wondering, “How long are doctors’ residents?” If so, we don’t blame you. You’re already looking back at years of studying for medicine, and now come many more years of training. We know you have the dedication to make your dreams come true.

Residency can feel like a long road, but it’s a noble and worthwhile one. As you gain experience with subspecialties, you’ll also learn more about all the different career paths you can have as a healthcare professional.

Before you head into this rigorous but rewarding stage of any doctor’s education, this article will help you know more about residencies in general and what to expect as you gain hands-on experience in a healthcare environment. 

What is a doctor’s residency?

So exactly what is “residency?” After years of having your nose in the books, residency is a transitional period for you to go out into the world and get some hands-on experience by working in a hospital or clinic alongside experienced professionals in your field. 


Residency training has two parts. The first year is your internship, where you’ll move between specialties and gain a unique opportunity to discover what truly interests you—your passion!—as a medical worker.

Next comes the opportunity to explore that passion in the following years of residency, whose length can vary based on how you choose to subspecialize. 

How many years is residency? 

The amount of years in residency depends, in part, on you. Whether you continue training for an extra year or two depends on what subspecialties you want to pursue. The shortest residency programs last around three years, but others (like surgical residencies) can go for up to seven years. The outline below provides a bit more specific guidance: 

Three-four years: 

  • Preventive medicine
  • Primary care
  • Internal medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Endocrinology
  • Genetics and genomics
  • Osteopathic neuromusculoskeletal medicine
  • Family medicine
  • Emergency medicine
  • Physical medicine
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Neurology
  • Pathology
  • Anesthesiology
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Dermatology
  • Psychiatry

Five years:

  • General surgery
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Vascular surgery
  • Child neurology
  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Otolaryngology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Urology

Six years:

  • Plastic surgery
  • Thoracic surgery 
  • Interventional radiology

Seven years:

  • Neurological surgery  

What’s the importance of a medical residency? 

Medical residencies help aspiring physicians gain hands-on, guided experience doing patient care while bolstering staff in hospitals and clinics. Even while you’re learning, you can make all the difference.

Residencies (which start with the internship rotation described above) help guide soon-to-be physicians toward the area of medicine they’d like to specialize in. Once a resident has decided on their career path, they’ll take on tasks like performing patient assessment, doing rounds, creating care plans, and ordering lab work. They’ll also get first-hand experience interacting with patients and their support systems, thereby learning to manage the emotional and interpersonal aspects of the job. 

And, since residents act as doctors (under supervision, of course), they play an essential role in hospitals. Resident doctors can help deliver babies, provide care and educate patients on their health. 

How to make the most of your residency  

We recommend stocking up on comfortable scrubs and kicks for those long shifts if you’re about to head into residency. After all, doing so will only help you with the most important aspect of this apprenticeship: making the most of it by learning all you can. 


The following are some aspects of the experience on which you can focus to get all you can out of the experience:

  • Gaining knowledge: You can glean only so much knowledge from books (and in med school, we’re talking about a lot of knowledge). But nothing can compare to hands-on experience. Make the most of your residency by soaking up all of your mentors’ information. And keep reading up on the latest research and technology in your field to stay ahead of the curve. 
  • Learning professionalism: Residency is an opportunity to put theory into practice. But you’ll also learn how to apply your natural interpersonal skills in a real-world professional setting. 
  • Staying motivated and inspired: While this period provides an essential and enriching experience, you may feel discouraged or burnt out. But let’s be honest: You made it through medical school! So we know you can do this. Try to focus on the positives: You’re learning to become an excellent physician.  
  • Taking care of yourself: In a field where burnout, stress, and anxiety run high, it’s crucial that you take care of yourself. You’ll be better able to focus your energy on your patients, so think of it as a win-win situation. We recommend eating right, sleeping well, getting plenty of exercise, and finding a spare moment or two to relax and spend time with (and receive support from) your loved ones. You could even try a new hobby—anything to establish a work-life balance as best you can.  
  • Connecting with others: Take advantage of your support system. Accept your friends and family’s help when you’re having a rough week. Simple acts of love like ordering takeout or doing the dishes can go a long way. Speaking of dishes, don’t forget to “dish” with your fellow interns, too, but think of it as a sort of group therapy. After all, empathizing with others can help you through this stressful but rewarding time. Remember, collegiality creates a functional, healthy working environment, no matter your field of expertise.

As you embark on a challenging phase of your medical education like residency, always remember: You’re not alone. We’re always here to support you—not just with luxury scrubs but also with career information that can help you better envision the road ahead.

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