Although completing medical school is a significant milestone, the road to becoming a doctor involves additional hands-on training through a residency. Medical residencies allow you to take on more responsibility with direct patient care, such as diagnosing, controlling, and treating medical concerns. 

But what do medical residents do?

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In this guide, we’ll explore the intricacies of medical resident duties, how to become one, what salary you can expect as a resident, and the job outlook for medical residents. So, join us and learn how this enriching stage will prepare you for a future as a doctor. 

What Is a Medical Resident?

A medical resident refers to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) graduate who participates in a training program that is accredited by the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education). Residency represents a stage of post-graduate medical training during which you learn the intricacies of diagnosis and patient care. You also gain more focused and in-depth training in one particular area of medicine. 

As a medical resident, you’ll spend the first year as an intern working under the close supervision of an attending. After the intern year, you’ll have more freedom regarding scheduling, practice, and pay. During the remaining residency years, you’ll function and perform the duties of an attending doctor under supervision.  

What Do Medical Residents Do?

As a medical resident training in your chosen field, you’ll have a wide range of responsibilities and duties regarding direct patient care and medical practice. Typically, you’ll work in clinics or hospital departments in emergency care, intensive care, operating rooms, etc. Residency training will also allow you to develop your skills in:

  • Interpreting diagnostic tests;
  • Recording medical histories;
  • Performing medical procedures;
  • Disclosing adverse events or delivering bad news. 

Let’s take a more detailed look at some of your responsibilities as a medical resident. 

What Do Medical Residents Do_

Patient care

During your medical residency training, you’ll play a crucial role in direct patient care under the supervision of an attending. As part of patient care, you may perform history and physical examinations and consultations, after which you’ll have to discuss your findings with the attending physician. You may also perform preoperative evaluation workups and formulation of a treatment plan and manage routine post-operative issues such as fluid management, hypertension, and anuria. As a resident, you may also prescribe and monitor medications, such as pain medication and antibiotics. Furthermore, you may order and interpret diagnostic and imaging tests to further evaluate your patients’ conditions. 

Medical rounds

Medical rounds are a critical component of the residency training process. They serve as a forum for discussing patient care and sharing important information about a patient’s medical condition.

These daily discussions involve a team of healthcare professionals, such as attending physicians, residents, and medical students, and can also include nurses and other allied health professionals. 

Medical rounds are necessary because they also serve as a platform for attending physicians to demonstrate diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. During medical rounds, you’ll learn to present patient cases and treatment plans for each patient under your care. Moreover, you can actively participate in case discussions, share your opinion, and ask questions. 


Residency training will also give you an opportunity to perform various medical procedures under the supervision of an attending. The procedures you may perform vary depending on your chosen specialty. For example, as an internal medicine resident, you’ll be able to perform arterial and venous blood sampling, perform pap smear and endocervical culture, and perform advanced cardiac life support. As a surgical resident, you’ll observe and assist in surgeries, and as you continue your education, you may perform simpler surgeries such as appendectomies. As you gain experience, you’ll learn to perform complex surgeries and master all surgical operations. 


Another thing you’ll be responsible for during your residency training is maintaining patient records. You must document patient interactions, including history-taking, diagnostic tests, progress notes, and treatment plans. You also need to regularly review and update patient records to reflect changes in patient condition. Moreover, you must ensure your documentation is accurate, thorough, and up-to-date with your patient’s condition. Accurate documentation ensures continuity of care and helps prevent errors, allowing the healthcare team to monitor the patient’s response to treatment and adjust as needed. 

Medical Resident Qualifications

Let’s break down the qualifications and requirements you need to become a medical resident. 

Medical license

A fundamental requirement for practicing medicine and participating in a residency training program is having a valid medical license. A medical license is a requirement for working as a physician, as it ensures you possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and competence to provide medical care. 

To obtain a medical license, you must pass a series of licensing exams, such as:

  • United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE): a comprehensive three-step examination for M.D.s that evaluates your medical knowledge, principles, and patient-centered skills. You’ll have to take the first two exams before residency training; the third step is taken after completing the first year of residency. 
  • Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA): a three-level licensure examination designed for D.O.s that assesses your medical knowledge and clinical skills. The timeline of the exams is the same as the USMLE steps. 

Graduate medical education application

The application process for residency programs typically involves registering on the ERAS platform. This platform is a centralized application service that streamlines your residency application, submitting letters of recommendation and other documents. Your application portfolio should include a curriculum vitae (CV), USMLE or COMLEX scores, and a personal statement. 

Medical school transcript

General admission requirements to a residency program include submitting official transcripts from medical school. If you’re an international student, you must also provide certified or notarized English translations of documents originally written in a language other than English. 

Letters of recommendation

You must submit up to three letters of recommendation as part of your residency application process. These letters are important as they allow the program directors to see how you’re regarded by faculty members who’ve worked with you before. You can request letters of recommendation from core faculty members who’ve observed your direct clinical work with patients. One letter of recommendation should be from a faculty member of your chosen specialty, whereas others can be from any other clinical department. When asking for a letter, make sure to request a few months in advance to allow the author enough time to draft the letter. 

US clinical experience (for international medical graduates)

If you’re an international medical graduate, you may also need to have U.S. clinical experience, not including observerships or research. Gaining clinical experience allows you to network with U.S. physicians and other residency program directors, which can facilitate the acquisition of highly valuable letters of recommendation.  

Additionally, you need to receive the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certification before taking the USMLE. 

Salary and Job Outlook

Overall, the average salary of medical residents has increased yearly from $55,400 in 2015 to $67,400 by 2023. 

According to AAMC, the average salary of residents, depending on their year of training, is:

  • Year 1 – $62,722;
  • Year 2 – $65,306;
  • Year 3 – $67,763;
  • Year 4 – $71,235;
  • Year 5 – $74,837;
  • Year 6 – $76,947;
  • Year 7 – $81,067;
  • Year 8 – $85,380.

Other factors influencing their salary include geographic location, the residency program’s prestige, and the specialty type. 

Furthermore, the job market looks promising for medical residents. According to AMN Healthcare’s 2023 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents, 56% of medical residents reported receiving 100 or more job solicitations during their training. This demand for physicians is driven by population growth, an aging population, and many physicians nearing retirement age. 

Bottom Line

Medical residency is a pivotal part of your training, providing the necessary knowledge and skills required to practice medicine. During your training, you’ll provide direct patient care under the supervision of an attending. Moreover, you’ll learn to perform various medical procedures and maintain patient records. Residency training also gives you the opportunity to earn an above-national average salary as you work towards becoming a fully-fledged physician. 

But what do you need to do before medical residency training? To take your first step toward a future career as a physician, we invite you to explore our M.D. program and join the ranks of our highly skilled students. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are medical residencies?

The length of residencies depends on the medical specialty. The shortest residencies, like emergency medicine and pediatrics, take three years to complete. On the other hand, the longest residency is neurosurgery, which takes seven years to complete. 

What is the difference between a resident and a physician?

A resident is a recently graduated medical school doctor and is completing the rest of their post-graduate training. On the other hand, a physician is a fully-fledged physician who has completed their training requirements and is board-certified. 

Do doctors get paid a lot during residency?

While residents get paid during their residency, their salary is significantly lower than that of physicians who have completed their education and training requirements. In 2023, the average medical resident’s salary is $67,400.

What comes after a residency?

After residency, you can pursue advanced training in a fellowship in a particular subspecialty of medicine. Fellowships can last one to three years, during which you’ll receive training under the supervision of a seasoned specialist. 

How hard is medical residency?

Residencies are demanding and can be grueling at times. During your training, you must balance patient care with administrative tasks and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field. Moreover, as a resident, you’ll work long hours with limited breaks. 

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