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What Is a Resident Doctor?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 23, 2021

A resident doctor is a medical school graduate and doctor in training who's taking part in a graduate medical education (GME) program. Health care facilities commonly refer to resident doctors as "residents" and first-year residents as "interns".

Residents work at hospitals or doctors' offices to continue their education and training in a specialized field of medicine. A resident may work like this for three to seven years, a period known as residency. 

During their residency, doctors provide direct care. This includes diagnosing, managing, and treating health conditions. Doctors as well as senior residents in a medical facility supervise each resident. Junior residents generally start with more supervision and less complicated tasks. Responsibilities increase as residents gain education and experience. 

Supervising doctors train residents in their desired specialty during residency. Specialties include:

What Does a Resident Doctor Do?

Residents work in hospital departments such as intensive care units, emergency departments, operating rooms, and general patient wards. Supervising doctors teach resident doctors to: 

  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Give examinations
  • Perform medical procedures
  • Record medical histories

In hospitals, the majority of a resident's work and education occurs during rounds, when a group of doctors and other health care professionals goes from person to person to check their condition, treatment, and progress. Working with them helps a resident assess their health, judge how they’re healing, and make treatment adjustments. 

Residents can also work in outpatient clinics or doctor's offices. They’ll work directly with you during examinations and treatments. Residents in doctors’ offices also spend time with your family and coordinate services with other members of your health care team.

In addition to working with patients and other doctors, residents also continue their education by attending formal conferences and seminars.

Education and Training

All resident doctors have completed medical school with a diploma such as a doctor of medicine (MD), doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), or similar degree. (Osteopathic schools focus more on holistic medicine and alternative therapies.)

During medical school, students typically get direct clinical experience, meaning they work with patients in some capacity. Clinical experience at medical school can include:

●Recording a medical history

●Performing and interpreting examinations

●Communicating with patients, families, and other health care professionals

●Ordering and interpreting diagnostic studies

●Performing closely supervised medical or surgical procedures

To provide care during their residency, residents typically must have a license from the state or jurisdiction where they work. Junior residents may have a restricted training license. Residents must eventually obtain a full, unrestricted license to continue their training or begin their own practice.

During residency, several principles guide how resident doctors continue their learning:

●Residents gradually become more responsible for care while under supervision.

●Residents have adequate time for reflective learning.

●Residents work with patients long enough to observe how illnesses and conditions evolve.

During training, residents must work closely with their supervising doctors to gain medical knowledge and experience with patients and procedures. Supervising doctors educate residents on patient safety and provide feedback to residents for continued educational, professional, and personal development.

Reasons to See a Resident Doctor

You may see a resident doctor as part of your visit to a hospital or doctor's office. Residents are part of health care teams and work with patients assigned to their supervising doctor. In many cases, residents have more time than supervising doctors to talk with patients and learn about their situations. 

Supervising doctors and senior residents review a junior resident's work, meaning multiple medical professionals may be working on your case. Additionally, residents who recently graduated from medical school participate in continuing education, so their knowledge comes from the most up-to-date sources.

Residents can also assist with procedures, thus providing faster care and eliminating the need for multiple office visits. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates: "Resident Physician."

Harvard Medical School: "Should I see a "resident" doctor?"

Ulmer, Cheryl; Miller Wolman, Dianne; and Johns, Michael M.E. Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision, and Safety, National Academies Press (US), 2009.

University of Vermont Medical Center: "Why is a Medical Student or Resident Physician Helping With My Care?"

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: "Length of Residencies."

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