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  • Writer's pictureEdited by: Atif Zafar, MD

Heart-Breaking News: How Much do Resident Doctors Make During Their Training Years in Residency.

Hmmm, what is a medical residency and how much does a medical resident make? I am writing a blog on this topic for a few reasons. One reason is that many people are curious and type this question online every day on a google search. Recently a junior undergrad asked me this question while I was unsuccessfully trying to attract her towards the field of medicine. When I told her how much we earn during residency, she was so shocked saying that at 26-27 years of age, that is unfair for doctors who work 80-100 hours a week to make that sum! She is right. And probably smart as she shared that she is contemplating more towards data science and software than medicine.

Another reason why I am writing on this topic: One of my good friends, we will call him Y for privacy. He got married to a lady, lets call her X, in Texas only to break up a year later for mysterious reasons. She belonged to a family of no doctors - hmm, lucky indeed. My friend Y and that lady X fell for each other, and after a year, they got hitched. Interestingly, my friend Y had gotten into residency at that time. Here is the interesting part: while living together, she wanted him to spend like a real doctor.... not knowing that he is making a mere 3000 US dollars a month. Eventually, they parted ways. Inappropriate financial expectations were one of the reasons. Why did this not come up before they settled together, don't ask me? My friend Y thought she would know. And probably the lady X googled and was given the wrong information. I thought having an article from a doctor may make it more legit for people searching on google. And may save future marriages...... Your welcome.

What is Medical Residency:

Medical residency is 3-8 years of training that nearly all doctors have to do right after they get out of medical school. These years are spent working at community or academic hospitals under the supervision of experienced doctors. In essence, after medical school, we spend a few years working in kind of a supervised practice. For internal medicine (IM), emergency medicine (EM), and family medicine (FM) programs, three years of training after medical school is required. Once these three years of supervised training are completed, residents have the option to graduate and start practicing as "real" independent doctors. While many do, some choose to continue to specialize further by doing fellowships. This brings us to our next questions.

What do you mean by fellowship?

Fellowship is advanced training that many doctors choose to pursue based on their interests. It is optional. For example, after completing three years of internal medicine residency, some folks choose to do another 2-3 years of cardiology or 2 years of infectious disease fellowship. Similarly, some folks after 5 years of general surgery residency choose to do another 2-3 years of specialized hepatobiliary surgery practice. A fellowship can be followed by a super-fellowship as well. In short, some people can do 3-4 years of residency, followed by 2-3 years of fellowship followed by another 1-2 years of fellowship to super-specialize. Yeah, crazy.

How long is medical residency?

It varies based on what graduates of medical school are planning to pursue. For IM, EM, and FM, it is three additional years of training after medical school. For general surgery, it is five years. For neurology, its 4 years in the US and 5 years in Canada. For someone wanting to do radiology, it is 5 years as well. So on and so forth.

Can residents be called doctors?

Yes, they certainly can. But doctors fresh out of medical school have to go through medical residency before they can get a license to practice as independent doctors.

How much do doctors make in residency?

On average, 3200 to 4800 dollars per month (after tax) based on where they are doing their residency. Expensive cities like NYC and LA or SF pay anywhere 3800-4400 US dollars to the trainees and residents. The first year of residency is typically called internship and the average salary is anywhere from 50,000 per year to 62,000 USD per year (pre-tax). Every increasing year based on seniority there is an increment of 2-4k per year per resident. So a resident who is in his or her 8th year of training can make up to 78,000 USD per year.

Can resident doctors earn extra income or do locums during training?

Some programs do allow their residents (after the first year of training) to do extra shifts beyond their usual training hours/work hours in order to make extra income. Some hospitals (based on hospital and the state regulations) even allow their residents to work in other rural hospitals or VA network hospitals as independent clinicians. This again is outside their training hours. Some of my friends who did their training in community hospitals especially in states like Arkansas or Maine were able to do up to 60-80 hours a month extra clinical work, in addition to their residency training. This allowed them to make another 50, 000 a year on top of their basic salaries.

Do medical residents live a decent quality of life-based on their salary and lifestyle?

It is the medical school debt that makes things messy for most residents or fellows. Typically, medical residents can live an average quality of life. But based on the medical school debt repayment plan, size of family and number of children needing daycare, etc, budgeting can get pretty tight at times. We have to remember that on average residents accrue 180k-300k of debt through their medical school lives. So in most cases, it is pretty challenging.

That is it for today. See you soon.

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