Medical School vs Residency
The path to becoming a doctor is long and complex. After graduating from an accredited four-year medical school—such as the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC)*, which is located in Sint Maarten—prospective physicians will need to undergo post-graduate training known as medical residency in order to be granted licensure. But what is a medical resident? What is the average medical residency length? How do the demands of residency differ from those of medical school?
A med school residency gives newly degreed doctors the hands-on opportunity to further practice and hone their skills before they are licensed to practice medicine. A medical residency lasts a minimum of three years, but the length of time varies depending on the specialty. In all, a medical residency may last up to seven years, and then some disciplines require additional years of training known as a fellowship.
How Medical School Differs From Medical Residency
A residency differs from the four years of medical school in a number of important ways. Much of the focus in medical school is on observing procedures and learning by watching the actions of licensed physicians. There are multiple exams, and you are frequently graded on your performance. As a resident, there is little classroom work and there are no grades. Instead, your progress is measured by evaluations of your clinical abilities written by attending physicians. There are fewer exams, and no finals week to speak of. Some doctors compare medical school to a series of high-intensity sprints, while residency is more like an endurance race.
As a medical student, you pay for your education. Residency is considered a job, and you are paid to care for patients. Residents have a much more strict schedule and less free time than medical students. As a medical student, you will have required readings from your textbooks. As a resident, you will want to stay on top of the literature in your field of study by reading medical journals—you may even write and publish medical articles of your own.
During your third and fourth year of medical school, you will perform clinical rotations, also known as clerkships. Rotations are assigned shifts in clinics and hospitals during which medical students are able to practice medicine in a supervised manner. During rotations, med students perform patient interviews, examinations, and deliver care as part of a supervised team. Rotations last several weeks and students must pass standardized tests known as shelf exams to advance.
Students in their first post-graduate year (PGY-1), are known as interns, because the first year of residency is considered an internship. Interns also do rotations in a variety of medical specialties. In their second year (PGY-2) and beyond, resident rotations focus on their chosen medical specialty. Residents see patients and make rounds with a medical team that includes medical students, interns, and other residents, and is led by an attending physician. Residents help supervise the med students and interns, and work closely with attending physicians. Residents do medical histories, conduct patient exams, and write admitting orders.
Fellowship students, known as fellows, further develop their diagnostic and clinical skills after completing a residency. They learn complex medical procedures specific to their chosen subfield and often participate in medical research.
Medical school students must largely manage themselves when it comes to the time they spend studying, working, or following other pursuits. In medical school residency programs, however, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) sets a work limit of 80 hours per week for interns, residents, and fellows. That includes in-house clinical and educational training, clinical work performed at home, and working an extra job in addition to residency or fellowship. (Working an extra job is also known as “moonlighting;” the ACGME forbids interns from moonlighting.) If 80 hours sounds like a lot, it is—it’s twice as much as the typical 40-hour-per-week job. The ACGME also sets limits on how much an intern, resident, or fellow can work at a given time: a maximum of 24 hours straight—but they must have eight-hour breaks between shifts and one day off per week. However, the ACGME calculates these figures using the average of a four-week period, meaning it’s possible to work more than 80 hours in a given week or to go more than a week without a day off.
Transition From Medical School to Medical Residency
Whether you have completed your medical training in the United States or at an international medical school such as AUC, which is a Caribbean medical school, residency is a key part of the training to become a physician. The transition can be difficult, but by reading up on what the expectations will be, you can prepare yourself. Doctors advise residents to take care of themselves by remembering to eat properly, exercise, rest and sleep when possible, participate in fun activities, and socialize with friends. Counseling is available at hospitals and clinics, and there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.
By now, you should know some things to help prepare you for your residency after medical school. There are many differences and challenges as your medical training advances, but it all is directed to the same goal: getting you ready to practice as a licensed physician. If you are a prospective medical student, learn more about AUC’s MD program and its record of residency placements. And, when you’re ready, apply to AUC and begin your journey toward a rewarding medical career.
AUC Residency Placements
What Is A Medical Residency Program And How Do I Get Into One?
How To Survive Your First Year Residency
*American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM, www.accredmed.org), which is the accreditor used by the country of St. Maarten.