Medical Residency Timeline & Length (2022-2023)

Residency training length depends on the specialty you pursue. Primary care residency programs are the shortest while surgical residencies are longer. Regardless of how long your residency training, your level of responsibility, autonomy, and independence increases in each year of residency so that by the end of your residency training, you are functioning independently in your chosen specialty. All residency specialties also offer the option for further specialization after residency, called fellowship training.

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Categorical Versus Preliminary Programs

Residency programs that lead to board certification in that specialty are called categorical residency programs. 

Residency programs that are one year and do not lead to board certification, are called preliminary or transitional programs. 

There are also some specialties that start residency training in the second year after medical school or post graduate year two (PGY2). These are called advanced positions. Residents that start specialty training in the PGY2 year must also complete a one year transitional or preliminary program in the PGY1 year.

The following specialties offer advanced positions and start in the PGY2 year, however, some may also start in the PGY1 year:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Dermatology
  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Neurology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiation oncology
  • Urology

How Long Is Medical Residency? (By Specialty)

The average length of residency training is about four and a half years. The shortest residency training programs are three years and the longest are seven. After residency training, some people pursue fellowship training which can range in length from one to three years, on average. So, keep in mind that your overall training might be extended by one to three years depending on whether or not you choose to subspecialize.

Residency SpecialtyProgram Length
Transitional/Preliminary Year1 year
Family Practice3 years
Internal Medicine3 years
Pediatrics3 years
Anesthesiology3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Dermatology3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Neurology3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Ophthalmology3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Physical Medicine3 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Emergency Medicine3-4 years
Obstetrics-Gynecology4 years
Pathology4 years
Psychiatry4 years
Diagnostic Radiology4 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
Radiation Oncology4 years plus PGY-1 Transitional/Preliminary
General Surgery5 years
Orthopaedic Surgery5 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)
Otolaryngology5 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)
Urology5 years (includes one year of general surgery)
Plastic Surgery5-6 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)
Neurological Surgery6 years (includes 1 year of general surgery)

What To Expect

Applying To Medical Residency

You will apply to residency through The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) through MyERAS for the majority of specialties. Ophthalmology and plastic surgery use the SF Match service. 

For each system, you will need to include your biographical and educational information. Additional documents you need are a personal statement, information about your experiences (work, volunteer, and research), letters of evaluation, your medical school transcript, and standardized test reports (USMLE or COMLEX).

What to Expect in Residency

All residencies have graduated levels of responsibility throughout training which means that you will become more independent and responsible for every year of your residency training. The ultimate goal is that, by the end of residency, you are functioning independently within your specialty. As you gain more knowledge, expertise, and skill, you will feel comfortable taking on more responsibility and your attendings will welcome the help. Additionally, you will have increased supervisory and teaching roles throughout residency. By the end of residency you will be supervising your interns and junior residents. Therefore, you will need to delegate roles and duties, oversee your interns and junior residents, and often you will be the one those junior doctors turn to with questions.

After Medical Residency

After residency training, residents choose to either practice in the chosen specialty or pursue further fellowship training. Within one to two years of finishing residency, doctors also take specialty boards to become board certified in the specialty in which they trained. These specialty boards always involve a written exam and some specialties have an oral exam component as well.

Medical Residency Salary

Residency salaries do not vary much between specialties and residency salaries increase every year of training. There tend to be salary differences between geographic areas with areas that have higher costs of living paying slightly more than areas where the cost of living is lower.

About MedEdits

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