As an aspiring medical school student, you may often wonder ‘how long does a medical residency last?’ as it is the pathway to becoming a specialised doctor. To answer your question, the length of your residency program will depend on the speciality you choose. The primary care residency programs are the shortest, whereas surgical residency programs are the longest, making your training last anywhere between three to seven years. No matter how lengthy your residency training is, you become more independent, autonomous, and responsible with each passing year until, at the conclusion of your residency program, you are working on your own in your chosen specialty. Additionally, all residency specialties have the opportunity for post-residency fellowship training, which opens the pathway for you to receive even more specialised training and experience.

The Difference Between Categorical and Preliminary Programs

Categorical residency programs are those that result in board certification for that specialisation. On the other hand, a preliminary or transitional program is a year-long residency program that does not result in board certification.

Additionally, several specialties begin resident training in the second year following medical school or the second year following graduation (PGY2). We refer to these as advanced positions. As a resident, you must finish a one-year transitional or preparatory program in the PGY1 year before beginning speciality training in the PGY2 year.

The following specialties start in the PGY2 year and offer advanced jobs. However, some may also start in the PGY1 year:

What to Expect During Your Residency: Start to End


  • Applying for medical residency

For the majority of specialties, you will use MyERAS to submit your residency application through The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). If you are applying to the fields of Plastic Surgery and Ophthalmology, you will use SF Match to submit your residency application.

You must enter your biographical and educational details for each system as well as submit documents including your personal statement, details about your profession, volunteer activity and research, letters of recommendation, medical school transcript, and scores from standardised tests (USMLE or COMLEX).

  • What happens during your residency

With each passing year of your residency training, you will gain greater independence and accountability because all residencies offer progressive levels of responsibility during training. The ultimate goal is for you to be able to work independently within your speciality when your residency training is complete. As you gain more knowledge, experience, and dexterity, your attendees will appreciate the help. Additionally, you will be more comfortable taking on added responsibilities. Your teaching and supervision duties will increase throughout your residency. By the time your residency is up, you will need to delegate tasks and responsibilities, oversee your interns and junior residents, and regularly act as the point of contact for questions from these junior doctors.

  • Your medical residency ends, what next

After completing your residency program, you can either practise in the chosen speciality or continue your education with a fellowship. Doctors take specialised programs to get board certified in the speciality they have trained in within a year or two of finishing their residency. There is always a written exam for these specialised boards, and certain specialisations also include an oral exam.

In a Nutshell, What Is the Length of a Medical Residency?

To answer the frequently asked question — ‘how long does residency last?’ let us tell you that a residency program takes about four and a half years to complete. Three years is the shortest, and seven years is the longest resident training program duration. Some people continue their education after their residency training by enrolling in fellowship programs, which can last anywhere between one and three years on average. Thus, be aware that depending on whether you decide to subspecialise, your overall training may be extended by one to three years.