The path to becoming a doctor is demanding, with each step offering a new perspective on medicine and helping individuals hone their physician skills. Despite being a rewarding career, each step you take to become a doctor adds years of training.

For example, upon graduating from medical school, aspiring doctors enter the vital stage of their journey to become physicians: residency placements. This marks a transformative point in any doctor’s career, enriching their qualities with hands-on training through clinical practice.

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But what exactly is medical residency, and, can you be a doctor without residency? Read on to find out.

What is a Medical Residency?

Residency in medicine is the last step med school graduates take to earn their doctor’s title. It is the stage when the years of learning about the functioning of the body are practiced in real-life experience. Depending on the specialty they want to pursue, recent graduates apply and are admitted to various medical institutions and fields. 

Working under the supervision of qualified doctors, residents perform a combination of clinical duties and administrative roles, such as:

  •  Conduct thorough examinations to assess patient health;
  • Develop and implement care plans, including medication and therapies;
  • Perform medical procedures under the supervision of an attending doctor;
  • Track and evaluate patient progress over time;
  • Record patient interactions and maintain accurate medical records;
  • Work with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care.

The residency duration in the USA depends on the specialty but typically spans from two years for primary care fields to seven years for more specialized areas. So, in this sense, residencies are considered post-graduate training that allows physicians to have the necessary practical experience and clinical competence to practice medicine.

Can You Be a Doctor Without Residency?

It’s important to note that completing a residency program is not a must. You can certainly earn an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree without residency and land yourself a commendable job in the field. However, residency is essential for obtaining a license in the U.S. and practicing independently as a physician.

In most states, becoming a fully licensed doctor depends on a residency program. Without residency, medical school graduates may pass the initial licensing exams but cannot obtain a full medical license to practice independently.

Becoming board-certified—which signifies that a physician has met the rigorous standards of their specialty board—also requires completing a residency. This certification is often needed for hospital privileges, insurance panel membership, and other professional opportunities.

Finally, doctors who do not complete a residency face significant restrictions in their scope of practice. They may be limited to working in non-clinical roles or in certain healthcare settings with supervision.

Nevertheless, the career opportunities outside of residency placements are vast, offering a noteworthy job outlook, stable income, and potential for further advancement. 

7 Career Paths for Physicians Without a Residency

Medical school graduates can pursue various career paths without a residency program. Let’s look at seven lucrative roles and explore their impact on healthcare.

1. Physician assistant

Average annual salary: $130,020

Another career you can pursue after graduating from medical school is becoming a physician assistant. These med professionals are critical to comprehensive care, assisting physicians with their patient duties. Working side by side with doctors, they ensure patients receive timely and effective treatment.

Working mostly in physician offices, they perform tasks like: 

  • Perform physical exams to assess patient health;
  • Gather medical histories; 
  • Develop and implement treatment plans;
  • Adjust dosages and manage medication regimens;
  • Request diagnostic tests such as blood work, X-rays, and MRIs;
  • Assist in surgeries, often acting as the first or second assistant to the surgeon, among other duties. 

Though you can become a physician assistant with a master’s degree, your medical degree can also land you a job. On top of education, you need to have experience with patient care, and obtaining state licensure. 

2. Medical and health services management

Average annual salary: $110,680

Medical and health service managers work behind the scenes, making sure healthcare facilities run smoothly and effectively. While they may not work directly with patients, their role is essential in providing the most efficient patient care.

Also known as healthcare administrators, they manage staff, handle budgets, and maintain patient records. These professionals also ensure compliance with healthcare laws and regulations, improve facility services, and implement new healthcare policies.

In their daily routines, they work closely with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals and sometimes interact with patients or insurance agents. This is an ideal career for those who enjoy leading and collaborating with others.

To score such a job, you typically need a bachelor’s degree, though requirements can vary. However, due to the deep understanding of clinical practices, medical terminology, and patient care processes, a medical degree puts you a step higher than other candidates while pursuing this job. 

3. Medical research scientist

Average annual salary: $100,890

While you may not call yourself a doctor, being a medical research scientist is as important in providing vital care to patients. These medical professionals specialize in studying diseases and discovering new treatments to improve health. Their work is detrimental to creating new medicines, vaccines, and therapies, contributing to advancements in medical knowledge and patient care.

Working in labs or pharmaceutical companies, these professionals conduct experiments, gather data, and write reports on their findings. To become a medical researcher, you typically need a Ph.D. in a scientific field or a medical degree. Depending on your interest, you can further specialize as a medical researcher in clinical pharmacology, medical pathology, or toxicology. 

4. Medical writer/editor

Average annual salary: $70,509 for medical writers; $77,681 for medical editors

Individuals interested in medicine and with a knack for writing can choose to become medical writers/editors. Though both work in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, assisting each other, their roles are different.

A medical writer creates clear, accurate documents about medical and scientific topics. They write research papers, regulatory documents, training materials, and promotional content, ensuring accuracy and clarity.

Medical editors, on the other hand, review and refine these documents. They focus on correcting grammar, ensuring consistency, and verifying the accuracy of the information.

Essentially, the key difference is that medical writers create content, while medical editors polish and perfect it, ultimately supporting healthcare communication, education, and awareness.

Due to the credibility that a medical degree holds within the healthcare industry, your medical education background can be very advantageous when pursuing a role such as medical writer or editor.

5. Surgical assistant

Average annual salary: $59,160

If you’re intrigued by surgical procedures, then this role might be for you. A surgical assistant helps surgeons with operations, ensuring a smooth procedure. As such, they have a significant impact on patients’ experience before, during, and after surgery.

These professionals start with preparing the operating room, sterilizing the equipment, and position patients before surgery. During surgery, they hand out operating tools, control bleeding, and monitor a patient’s state. After surgery, they may assist in patient care and recovery, helping patients adjust to their life after post-surgery.

To enter this occupation, you need a certificate or an associate degree. And while most surgical assistants work in hospitals, you can also find them in physician offices and care centers, making their greatly acknowledged contribution.

6. Anesthesiologist assistant

Average annual salary: $47,340

Many medical school graduates also seek to become an anesthesiologist assistant (AA). Supervised by anesthesiologists, these professionals work in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient care centers to provide anesthesia care. Their role in healthcare is important as it ensures safe and effective anesthesia management before, during, and after surgical procedures. 

The main responsibilities of an AA include preparing patients for anesthesia, monitoring vital signs during surgery, and adjusting anesthesia levels as needed. Anesthesiologist assistants also help with pre-operative assessments, place breathing tubes, and provide post-operative care to ensure patients recover safely.

The requirements for taking over this role include a Master’s degree from an accredited program and certification. However, a medical degree has more advantages in taking this role due to the extensive knowledge one gains during med school.  

7. Emergency medical technician

Average annual salary: $38,930

Becoming an EMT (emergency medical technician) is challenging and demanding, but it is also a highly rewarding career. It is a role that will take you across various settings, responding to 911 emergency calls and providing first aid support, like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

EMTs are also responsible for safely transporting patients to healthcare facilities during life-or-death situations. They must stay calm under pressure, think quickly, and work well in teams. 

These healthcare workers play a crucial role in saving lives and providing urgent care, making it ideal for those who want to help others in critical situations. 


Residency training is crucial for becoming a fully licensed physician, providing essential experience and expertise. However, there are numerous rewarding career paths in healthcare that do not require residency. Roles like medical research scientist, physician assistant, surgical assistant, and medical and health services manager offer diverse opportunities to make a significant impact in the medical field. Exploring these careers can lead to fulfilling professional lives and financial stability.

Remember that the healthcare industry is vast, and there are many ways to contribute and find your niche. So, stay determined, keep learning, and follow your passion to find the right path for you!


Can you get an M.D. without residency?

Yes, you can obtain an M.D. degree without completing a residency. The M.D. degree is awarded upon graduating from medical school. However, residency is required to gain practical experience.

Can you become a physician without completing residency?

No, you cannot practice as a fully licensed physician without completing a residency. Residency training is essential for obtaining a medical license and board certification, which are necessary for independent practice.

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