This doctor-student is learning on the job.
A resident is both a student and a doctor. In the United States, residents will have a degree in either medicine or osteopathy.
If you are in a teaching hospital, some of your healthcare may come from residents who are completing graduate education and training in a specialized area of medicine. They receive on-the-job training, practicing on real patients with real health problems. Residents will work with other members of your healthcare team.
Residents can take your medical history, perform a physical exam, order and interpret tests, diagnose health problems, and devise your treatment plan. Some residents may perform surgery — under supervision — if they are in a surgical residency.
Residents are supervised by more senior residents (chief residents) or your attending physician; residents receive more responsibility the longer they are residents. A first-year resident is also called an “intern.” A senior resident has more experience.
Residents may be the first doctor you see in the emergency room, in a special care unit, after you are assigned a bed in the hospital, or in an operating room. Always ask if your doctor is an attending physician or a resident.
A residency can last from 3 to 7 years, depending on the medical specialty. An orthopedic surgeon, for instance, will have undergone 4 years of undergraduate college, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of residency.
Residents work many hours to develop skills in their specialty. In the past, it was common for residents to work as many as 120 or more each week. This led to sleep deprivation and treatment errors. Now, by law, residents can work no more than 80 hours a week. This change has improved resident performance and patient care.
February 15, 2022
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA