How Long is Residency?

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Residency for medical practitioners can be one of the longest, grueling processes in their medical training.

But, are all residencies this way?

If you’re interested in learning more about how long residency is for medical school training, you’ve come to the right place!

This article will provide you with information on how long residency is for a variety of medical specialties. We’ll walk you through residency for psychiatry, residency for surgeons, and residency among several others! We’ll also talk about the different lengths of residencies and highlight some of the most competitive residences in the field today.

Let’s go ahead and get started.

What Determines the Length of Different Residencies?

What Determines the Length of Different Residencies?

What Determines the Length of Different Residencies?

Now, residency refers to a training period that starts once medical school has been completed. Medical students will take their leave from their home universities to complete the remainder of their training in the form of residencies within a variety of facilities across the country. Residency is a very critical period for hands-on training, where medical students work under the supervision of a more established physician.

The process of residency usually functions by a match program system. Here, medical students will apply to a number of residencies, rate them by their preference, and hope that these match with the residency programs they’ve applied for. Medical students are notified of their residency match every Spring.

Now, different types of medical specialties vary in length of residency training.

What exactly determines a medical student’s length of residency?

Ultimately, the length of residency is guided by a set of principles listed within the American Medical Association (AMA). AMA has very specific requirements for formal accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). ACGME is the governing body that determines the minimum length of residencies as three years for primary care and others.

As a practicing physician, you must abide by the principles and regulations dictated by these governing bodies in the medical field in order to be employed at the end of your training. To date, there are over 11,000 residency programs that meet requirements for accreditation through the ACGME. Each one varies by duration, but it all really depends on the focus of your career goals.

We also want to emphasize how different medical specialties may have their own length in training, depending on how invasive the procedures are within the practice.  For instance, family medicine has a much shorter residency than surgeons.

Length of residencies also depend on what interests drive the medical student. For instance, some medical students may want to train in a fellowship to enhance their skills in a particular subspecialty for proper career placement. Others might just end their residency training to meet the minimum requirements needed to work as a general practitioner.

Both end up in a similar work position with similar pay rate, but your expertise from a more rigorous training might make you more valuable in the long-run.

How Many Years of Postgraduate Training Do Surgical Residents Undergo?

How Many Years of Postgraduate Training Do Surgical Residents Undergo

How Many Years of Postgraduate Training Do Surgical Residents Undergo?

Residency for surgeons typically start with a minimum of five years. However, there are various subspecialties in surgery that has residencies that range from five to seven years. Let’s walk through each surgical subspecialty below with more details on how long each residency is expected to last.

Plastic surgery

Residencies in plastic surgery typically take three years of prep training, with an additional two years of plastic surgery training. Some trainees may consider an additional residency of up to 12 months for training in a particular field of interest. This leaves residency for plastic surgeons with a total of six years in residency.

General surgery

Residencies in general surgery take about five years minimum. Just as the name assumes, all surgeons will need to complete general surgery residency to meet the minimum requirement.


Residencies for neurosurgeons are expected to last one-year training in general surgery with an additional five years of training in neurological surgery, specifically. This makes a total of about six years for residency in neurosurgery.

Pediatric surgery

Residencies for pediatric surgeons typically last for three years. One year is spent training in general surgery and the remaining two years are completed in a pediatric surgery fellowship program.


Residencies for OB-GYNs usually last about four years total. The first three years are spent training in obstetrics and gynecology. The remaining year is spent training in a specialty field of interest (e.g., elective).

Thoracic Surgery

Residencies for heart surgeons will take about seven years to complete. The first five years are spent training in general surgery. The remaining two years are also in general surgery, but with special focus on thoracic procedures.

What is the Shortest Residency?

What is the Shortest Residency?

What is the Shortest Residency?

The shortest residencies are usually for medical specialties that have the least invasive procedures, such as general practitioners. Here, we have noted that the shortest residency starts with a maximum of three years required for any doctor in training.

Now, you’re probably wondering how can I receive all the training I need to be a doctor in three years?

Several respectable roles only take three years in residency to complete. Here is a list of medical specialties with the shortest length of residency. You’ll notice that these are more practice-based medical doctors, so training wouldn’t be that arduous, at least when you’re compared to a heart surgeon.

  • Pediatrics
  • Physical medicine
  • Family practice
  • Internal medicine

What is the Longest Residency?

What is the Longest Residency?

The longest residency for medical doctors is usually for medical specialties with the most invasive procedures. This leaves us with your most highly valued medical doctor– surgeons.

As we discussed earlier in the section, How Many Years of Postgraduate Training Do Surgical Residents Undergo, surgeons start with a minimum of five years. Depending on their subspecialty, they will need to complete additional training in their specific field for one to two years. This makes for a total of seven years in the longest residency.

In addition to being the longest residency, residency for surgeons is also considered one of the most competitive residencies in the field of medicine. This means that matching to your residency of choice has a lower percentage rate of successful placement. Here is a brief list of the most competitive residencies for surgeons:

  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Neurological surgery
  • Thoracic surgery
  • Plastic surgery

As a side note, radiology is also listed as one of the most competitive residencies, but does not fall under surgery. Although, it does have a considerably shorter length of residency than surgery that might make this more appealing to you, with a total of up to four years instead of seven.

In direct contrast, there are several non-invasive medical specialties that are considered the least competitive. Here is a brief list of the least competitive medical specialties:

  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry

Notably, residency for psychiatry is not very difficult to match. Residency for psychiatry has the lowest competition in the field, placing nearly all of their applicants successfully in their residency of choice. However, several of the other ones on our list also have a very high percent rate of placing their med students successfully into their preferred residency.

How Much Doctors Make During Residency?

How Much Doctors Make During Residency?

How Much Doctors Make During Residency?

The bad news about medical school?

Medical students will actually spend about two years not getting paid in their coursework. Many students take out student loans to pay for their curriculum.

However, this changes once they reach their residency training. During residency, medical students are permitted to receive a salary. Depending on your medical specialty, residents are typically paid between a range of $40,000 to $50,000 per year as a starting base.

The good news?

Your salary will increase much higher once you become a more established practicing doctor. Though, it is still much lower than the average $200,000 salary for licensed physicians. The reason that residents are paid much lower than more established doctors is due to the fact that they are yet to be accredited.

In referring back to the section, what determines the length of different residencies, the ACGME also determines your salary contingent on your accreditation.

Another important note is that residents do not bring in profit to the medical facility they are completing their residency in. Ranges in salary might also vary by country. The salary range we provided you with are specific to the American Medical Association in the United States (U.S.). Other countries might have lower starting salaries.

The better news?

Your salary as a resident is actually increased over time. So, the farther along you are in your residency training, the higher your salary; but it will typically stay within the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

Now, the hours worked for this salary are another layer to add to the grueling process of residency. Many residents work much more than 40 hours a week with a legal limit of up to 80 hours. These time commitments during your residency will depend on your supervisor, facility, location, and type of specialty.

Interestingly, you’ll find that residents training in the same specialty will have completely different experiences if their facility is in a city versus a rural location or even just with a different supervisor who is more lenient versus stringent.

What Happens After Residency?

What Happens After Residency?

What Happens After Residency?

As you progress in your residency, you will start to become more independent as a practicing physician. You will be provided with more responsibilities, supervise younger residents, and even start seeing your own clients. So, there is some light at the end of this medical training tunnel!

After fully completing your residency training, medical students then become eligible to apply for a medical license that allows them to work in a private practice, hospital, or clinic. You need this medical license before becoming formally employed in any facility.

All medical licenses are unique to their state. So, a practicing doctor licensed in Florida can only practice in Florida, not California; unless, of course, they obtain the license to practice there, as well. Think of this as a registration to work as a doctor in the area you currently reside in.

After residency, physicians must also earn board certification in their specialty by taking a board certification exam. The board certification process requires an exam designed by the American Board of Physician Specialties (APBS) that is offered in the Fall and Spring of every year.  These exams are usually multiple-choice formats, with some specialties requiring an oral examination.

The good news is that this will be your final exam ever! You should make a note that the board certification can actually expire in 6 or 10 years, depending on which one you obtain. However, at that point, you will know your field just as much as any other senior practitioner; so exams should only be an inconvenience of your time.

Once you have these requirements completed, you are well on your way to your dream career as a physician or surgeon with over $200,000 a year. It’s a long haul, but a well-earned keep for all the hard work and commitment you have put into medical school, residency, and the rest that comes along with it.

Wrapping Things Up: How Long is Residency?

Residency can be a very arduous training period for physicians in training; but the hard work definitely pays off. The length of residency may vary by specialty, but the minimum length will start at about 3 years.

At this point, you’ve learned about residency for psychiatry, residency for surgeons, and the most competitive residencies in the field. The most important takeaway from this article is that residencies are a long process that require a lot of time commitment, work hours, and dedication; length of time may vary by specialty but you are expected to work a significant amount of time to gain enough hands-on experience as a practitioner.

Keep focused on your end goals and three years will go by before you even know it.

If you found this post helpful, you’re definitely going to like our other medical school tips here.

You may also like these other med school study resources:

> How Much is Med School?

> How to Study for Step 1: The Ultimate Guide

> How to Study for Step 2 CK: The Ultimate Guide

> How to Study for Step 2 CS: The Ultimate Guide

> What is the Average Class Size in Medical Schools?

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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