Residency is a critical stage for medical professionals, as it provides them with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and training in their respective fields. But how many years is residency in the USA? This question is often asked by medical students and aspiring professionals who are planning to move to the United States for their residency program.

In this article, we’ll explore the duration of residency in the USA and provide an overview of what to expect during this essential phase of your medical career.

How Long Is Medical Residency?

After finishing four years of medical school, all medical students start their residency. The length of medical residency varies depending on the specialization, ranging from three to seven years. The first year of residency is called the intern year, which is similar in most hospitals. In the US, the first year of residency typically focuses on general clinical acclimation, and residency in a broad field like Internal Medicine or General Surgery.

Exposure to different departments helps you make a choice of specialization in the later years of your residency. After the intern year, some specialties have relatively short residencies, such as internal medicine which lasts for three years, while others like surgery or neurosurgery can take seven or more years to complete.

Type of Residencies

When it comes to medical residencies, there are different types of programs available. Categorical residency programs are designed to provide comprehensive training and lead to board certification in a particular specialty. These programs typically last for three to seven years, depending on the specialty.

On the other hand, preliminary or transitional residency programs are shorter and typically last for one year. They do not lead to board certification, but instead provide a general overview of different medical specialties. These programs are often used as a stepping stone to enter a more specialized residency program.

In some cases, residents begin their training in the second year of a residency program, and these positions are referred to as advanced positions. However, to be eligible for such programs, residents must complete a one-year transitional program in the first year.

It is worth noting that pursuing fellowship training after residency can take an additional 1-3 years. Fellowships provide even more specialized training in a particular area, and are typically optional. However, they can be beneficial for those who want to specialize further in their chosen field.

How Many Years Is Residency By Specialty

The structure of a medical specialty also determines how long a residency is for doctors. Below is an overview of the structure of some common residency programs:

  • Anesthesiology: Incorporates multiple subspecialties, such as pharmacology, emergency medicine, and physiology. Anesthesiology residencies last 4 years, with training beginning in the first year of post graduation.
  • Cardiac Surgery: Involves 5 years of general surgical training, followed by 3 years of cardiac surgical training. Multiple programs offer an integrated residency involving cardiac and thoracic surgery.
  • Family Medicine: Shorter in comparison to other specialties. Family medicine programs last 3 years with a basic clinical block in the first year and a possible fourth year for fellowship training.
  • Neurology: Usually 4 years long, with the first year focusing on internal medicine, and the remaining three years focusing on neurology.
  • Neurosurgery: One of the longest residency programs. Residency programs last 6-7 years, with the first two years focusing on general surgery, and the remaining years focusing on specialized rotations. 

Here’s an overview of the length of other medical residencies in the US:

  • Transitional/Preliminary Year – 1 year
  • Internal Medicine – 3 years
  • Pediatrics – 3 years
  • Anesthesiology – 3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Dermatology – 3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Neurology – 3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Ophthalmology – 3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Physical Medicine – 3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Emergency Medicine – 3-4 years
  • Obstetrics-Gynecology – 4 years
  • Pathology – 4 years
  • Psychiatry – 4 years
  • Diagnostic Radiology – 4 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • Radiation Oncology – 4 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
  • General Surgery – 5 years
  • Orthopedic Surgery – 5 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)
  • Otolaryngology – 5 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)
  • Urology – 5 years (includes one year of general surgery)
  • Plastic Surgery – 5-6 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)

What to Expect During Your Residency?

During a medical residency, you can expect to gain hands-on experience in a clinical environment, working alongside experienced physicians and healthcare professionals. You will have the opportunity to apply the knowledge you gained during medical school to diagnose and treat patients with various medical conditions and learn new skills and techniques.

You can also expect to work long hours, often exceeding 80 hours per week, and to be on-call for emergencies. However, the experience can be incredibly rewarding, as you will be making a significant contribution to patient care while also advancing your own career as a healthcare provider.

The Bottom Line

Residency in the USA typically lasts for three to seven years, depending on the chosen medical specialty. During this period, medical graduates receive extensive training, hands-on experience, and guidance from experienced physicians. The ultimate goal of residency is to prepare physicians to become confident, competent, and compassionate healthcare providers ready to handle the challenges of patient care independently.

With a track record of producing graduates who obtain residencies at prestigious hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, AUA could be the right choice for you. Visit us to learn more and start your journey toward a rewarding career in medicine.


How long is medical residency?

The length of medical residency varies depending on the specialty. Residency programs can range from three years for internal medicine and family practice to seven years for neurosurgery.

Are medical residencies paid?

Yes, medical residencies are paid. The salary for residents varies widely based on the specialty, location, and other factors.

How many hours do medical residents work?

Residents typically work long hours, with some shifts lasting up to 24 hours. However, there are regulations in place to ensure that residents are not overworked or put in unsafe situations.

What is the difference between a doctor and a resident?

A resident is a physician who has completed medical school and is undergoing specialized training in a particular field. A doctor is a medical professional who has completed all of their training and is licensed to practice medicine independently.

What is the shortest residency program?

The shortest residency program is in Family Medicine, which lasts for three years.