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7.2) What is a residency?


This article is from the Medical Education FAQ, by eric@wilkinson.com (Eric P. Wilkinson, M.D.)with numerous contributions by others.

7.2) What is a residency?

Upon graduation from medical school, you become a "doctor" having
earned the M.D. or D.O. degree. However, this isn't the end of
formal medical training in this country. Many moons ago, back when
almost all physicians were general practitioners, very few
physicians completed more than a year of post-graduate training.
That first year of training after medical school was called the
"internship" and for most physicians it constituted the whole of
their formal training after medical school; the rest was learned on
the job. As medical science advanced and the complexity of and
demand for medical specialists increased, the time it took to gain
even a working knowledge of any of the specialties grew to the point
where it became necessary to continue formal medical training for at
least several years after medical school. This training period is
called a "residency," earning its moniker from the old days when the
young physicians actually lived in the hospital or on the hospital
grounds, thus "residing" in the hospital for the period of their

During residency, you and your classmates practice under the
supervision of faculty physicians, generally in large medical
centers. Many primary care specialties, however, are based in
smaller medical centers. As you grow more experienced, you assume
more responsibilities and independence until you graduate from the
residency, and you are released to practice on your own upon an
unsuspecting populace.

The length of residency programs varies considerably between
specialties and even a little within individual specialties. In
general, the surgical specialties require longer residencies, and
the primary care residencies the least time.

   Lengths of Some Residencies
   All surgical specialties	5+ years
   Obstetrics and Gynecology	4 years
   Family medicine		3 years
   Pediatrics			3 years
   Emergency Medicine		3-4 years
   Psychiatry			3 years

The AMA maintains a database of almost all of the residency programs
in the United States, called the Fellowship and Residency Electronic
Interactive Database Access (FREIDA) system. It is available at

Recently a new type of residency has emerged, the so-called
"combined residency." These residencies train physicians in two
medical fields, such as internal medicine-pediatrics, or
psychiatry-neurology. As these types of residencies are new, they
are relatively few in number; they provide an opportunity for the
physician to become "double-boarded" and receive board certification
in each of the two specialties. Usually these residencies last one
or two years less than the total years that would be spent doing
both residencies.


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