The Essentials of Medical Residency

Medical residency will be a challenging and rewarding moment in your career. Get to know the different types of residents, how to prepare your residency application, and what you’ll be doing once you are a resident.
Student smiling into the camera
Lecturio Team


May 17, 2023

Table of Contents

Getting accepted into a residency program is a big, all-consuming task. It’s important to know what will be part of your experience. With the right steps, and education, the process for getting into residency and thriving in your role can be a lot less overwhelming. There are three main tasks to help you start the process of getting into residency. You need to know what a resident is, how to prepare your residency application, and what happens once you’re a resident. Take each of these tasks one by one and you’ll be a stand-out physician.

What is a Medical Resident?

Your time in residency is a culmination of your work in medical school and great work in internships. This time you will be acting as a physician with a supervisor overseeing your work. You will be your patient’s main healthcare provider, but be prepared to share your work with your supervisor. 

Wondering how long you’ll be in residency? More than likely you will complete your residency in 3 to 7 years. The main exception is if you are looking for training in a certain specialty. If you are in a specialty, your residency may be longer and/or you might need to apply for a fellowship. 

There are four types of residency you could be placed in for this time period:

1. Transitional residency

A transitional residency will most likely be for first-year residents. You’ll rotate through hospitals every two to three months. The good news? Your rotations can count as your first year of training. Be aware, though, you may need more credits to complete your second year of training.

2. Preliminary residency

A preliminary residency is usually a one-year program for those specializing. In this residency, you will have one to two years of training before you go into specialty programs. If you’re doing your residency with internal medicine and surgery training, you will most likely be offered a preliminary position and a categorical position.

3. Categorical residency

Categorical residency is the more traditional route. Your time as a categorical resident will be hospital-based. Through a categorical residency, you will receive full residency training that you need for Board certification in a specialty. This may be a position you will want your final year in medical school due to the breadth of the training.

4. Primary Care residency

Primary care residency is a program that provides extra emphasis on ambulatory care and experience in the community. If you’re going into general medicine or are a generalist, this is the type of residency you should be prepared to apply to.

How to Prepare Your Residency Application

Good grades and a comprehensive study schedule for step exams will help advance the academic portion of your residency application. Honesty, accuracy, and experience are also critical for making your application stand out.  

Don’t forget: Mentors can help identify opportunities that can benefit applications as well as write powerful letters of recommendation.

One of the recommendation letters you need may come from a mentor or a superior from a sub-internship you completed. This strong letter of recommendation is an essential part of your application. 

Alongside these letters of recommendation, you must include USMLE® scores. The sooner you take Step 2 CK, the bigger benefit this test will play in your application. You don’t want to send in a residency application with the Step 2 CK score pending, especially once the Step 1 scoring changes to pass/fail (at the earliest, January 2022), as Step 2 CK is expected to be the new equalizer in the application process. You know you’re a strong candidate for any residency program, so show them how serious you are about your placement. Remember, great grades and scores can make a difference in being accepted or not to the most competitive residencies. 

While you’re applying to residency programs there are a few other things to keep in mind. For instance, completing an away rotation at the hospital you’d like to be a resident at can help with the admittance to a specific program. Even if you have a specific residency in mind, plan to submit numerous applications. In these applications, there should be a personal statement. The personal statement should highlight unique abilities and be completely free of grammatical mistakes.

What Happens as a Resident

As an acting physician, you will be simultaneously dealing with many cases. The speed and type of cases may be more intense than you may expect. Flexibility, patience, and persistence will be key. 

As a resident, you can work up to 24 hours in a single shift with certain exceptions explained here. Overall, you can work up to 80 hours in a week. These long shifts will not go unrewarded professionally and financially. Yes, financially. 

You have probably wondered – do you get paid during residency? Great news, you do!

The average salary for a resident in the United States is roughly $61,200 annually. The work you do may not result in the largest payday, but you will still be compensated for your effort. 

Throughout your time as a resident, make sure to stay connected to mentors. Mentors can play a huge role in your future success. You’ll also develop new mentoring relationships, and maybe even become a mentor to a current medical student! As was true during medical school, mentors can teach you important skills and provide critical connections throughout your career. Find someone who will be an excellent model for a life-long learner mindset. This mindset will help you continue to improve and impress in your career.

Further Reading

Successful residency graduates often have their choice of jobs when they finish, but how do you navigate the challenge of ...

How to Match Into Your Top Choice Residency Program

Your future medical residency choice(s) will be determined by a combination of a strong application and strategic choices. Figure out the important strategies that can play an important role in your future placement.

Medical School Survival Guide

Getting into medical school and thriving within your program involves careful steps and helpful tricks. Lecturio has a great starting point for success: our Medical School Survival Guide.

The Best Way to Study is Interactive

Use Lecturio’s comprehensive Qbank to get exam-ready.

User Reviews