What Is an Intern?

By YourCareEverywhere Staff @YourCareE
September 13, 2023

These doctor-students are first-year residents learning on-the-job training. They practice on real patients with real health problems under supervision.

An intern is a first-year resident. Interns are both students and doctors. In the United States, interns will have a doctorate degree in either medicine or osteopathy.

If you are in a teaching hospital, some of your healthcare may come from interns who are completing graduate medical education and training in a specialized area of medicine. They receive on-the-job training, practicing on real patients with real health problems. Interns will work with other members of your healthcare team.


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Often an intern will train in one specialized area of medicine for a few weeks or months before switching to another program, so they are exposed to several medical specialties and learn basic training in general medicine. An internship is an important bridge from medical school to the practice of medicine, a time when every doctor begins to develop their knowledge, skill, and bedside manner.

Don’t confuse “intern” with the term “internist,” which is a doctor who practices in the specialty of internal medicine, often your family or primary care doctor.

Interns can take your medical history, perform a physical exam, order and interpret tests, diagnose health problems, and devise your treatment plan. Some may assist with surgery — under supervision — if they are in a surgical residency.

Interns are supervised by more senior residents and your attending physician. An intern 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 or intern.

A resident will spend 3 to 7 years in a residency, depending on their medical specialty. The first year of residency training is called an internship. An orthopedic surgeon, for instance, will have undergone 4 years of undergraduate college, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of residency, and maybe even a fellowship.

By law, interns can work no more than 80 hours a week.  


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September 13, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA