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How Long Is Residency by Specialty?

13 min


A group of medical residents in their chosen specialty, smiling and wearing scrubs in a hospital.


Residency is a stage of medical training that, in the US, is completed after medical school. As post-graduate medical education, residency training ranges in length depending on what field you are training for. Additionally within each field, there are opportunities to specialize even further through an added few years of fellowship training. 



Deciding Factors When Choosing a Specialty


Deciding on which specialty to pursue will depend on multiple factors. Some may be drawn to the operating room while others prefer working in an outpatient clinic setting. In contrast, some may want to focus on specific patient populations or organ systems. A survey conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2019 found that 42% of residents considered length of training as an important deciding factor when choosing their specialty. Although the length of training should not be the primary factor in choosing a specialty path, it may still contribute to your decision.



Factors that Contribute to the Length of Residency Programs


Certain specialties involve a separate first year, also known as PGY-1 or intern year, which consists of a “clinical base year” involving rotations through a range of specialties to provide a broad base of training. The next few years of training are then dedicated to that specific specialty. Residency programs can have openings that are categorical positions, meaning that the program provides the full training including both intern year and specialized training years. Conversely, other residency program spots are advanced positions, meaning the program only provides specialized training. In these cases, residents obtain first-year training separately, through a transitional or preliminary year position. These positions may be completed at the same institution or a different institution from the advanced training program.


In this blog, we will break down the standard residency training length for each field in the US. In summary, the longest residency, without including any additional research years or further fellowship, is neurosurgery (7 years) and the shortest are for 3 years with family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and emergency medicine (depending on the program). 





Anesthesiology residency spans a total of 4 years. The first year (PGY-1) consists of a “clinical base year”, explained in depth above. Currently, the majority of anesthesiology residency programs have categorical positions, meaning the full 4 years of training are provided. However, some residency programs offer advanced positions, with the intern year done with a separate program.





Dermatology residency is 4 years in total. Similar to anesthesiology residency, the first year (PGY-1) consists of general clinical training. Most dermatology residency programs currently provide advanced positions, so completion of a separate transitional year or preliminary year program is required. 



Emergency Medicine


The length of training for emergency medicine ranges from 3 to 4 years depending on the program. However, the difference between 3 versus 4 years of training is a topic of debate. Ultimately, the specific program fit and your career or training goals will impact your program selection. 



Family Medicine


Family medicine residency consists of 3 years of training. Along with dedicated family medicine clinic and inpatient training, residents also rotate through other primary care services such as general surgery and ob-gyn. 



General Surgery


General surgery residency is 5 years. There is also an option to do full-time research during the residency, which is becoming more common as more residents pursue surgical fellowships. Certain programs require dedicated research years, which can increase the training length to an additional 1 to 3 years.



Internal Medicine


Internal medicine residency training spans 3 years. There is also the opportunity to complete a “chief year” which, unlike other specialties, is an additional year of residency.





Med-Peds residency consists of a combined residency training for internal medicine and pediatrics over 4 years. Additionally, residents are eligible to take both boards at the end of their training.





Neurology residency is 4 years in total. The first year (PGY-1) is a general clinical intern year. Moreover, this may take place in conjunction with the program for advanced training, or at a separate transitional or preliminary year, depending on the neurology program position being categorical or advanced status, respectively.



Obstetrics/Gynecology (Ob/Gyn)


The residency for Ob/Gyn is 4 years. Residents receive training in both obstetrics and gynecology. 





Ophthalmology residency is 4 years, which also consists of a general clinical PGY-1 intern year. The majority of ophthalmology programs have categorical positions, which provide both an intern year and 3 years of ophthalmology training.



Orthopedic Surgery


Orthopedic surgery residency is a total of 5 years. The first year consists of one year of general surgery training, before starting 4 years of dedicated training for the specialty. 





Pathology residency typically consists of 4 years. The training includes both anatomic pathology and clinical/laboratory pathology. Some institutions may also offer specialized training in just one area/division for 3 years. 





Pediatrics residency has a 3-year training period. Of note, pediatric hospital medicine is now considered a subspecialty, requiring a 2-year fellowship before becoming board-certified.





Residency training for psychiatry is 4 years. 





Diagnostic Radiology


Diagnostic radiology residency is 5 years total, including the first year PGY-1, a general intern year. Furthermore, the first year typically involves a significant amount of surgical exposure. Additionally, most residency programs are categorical, and programs with advanced positions will involve finding a separate transitional or preliminary intern year.


Radiation Oncology


Radiation oncology residency also spans a total of 5 years. Similar to diagnostic radiology, the first year is a general clinical training year that can consist of a transitional or preliminary intern year, before starting the 4 years of radiation oncology training.


Interventional Radiology


Interventional radiology residency also involves a PGY-1 year of general training, followed by 5 years of specialty training, adding up to 6 years of postgraduate training. An alternative is completing the diagnostic radiology residency followed by 2 years of independent interventional radiology training.



Surgery Specialties Integrated


Some surgical specialties offer integrated residency programs, which may allow residents to start focused training earlier. As of now, these specialties can also be accessed after first completing a surgical residency.


Cardiothoracic Surgery (integrated)


Cardiothoracic surgery integrated residency is typically 6 years of training. If choosing to complete a surgical residency first (typically general surgery, otolaryngology, orthopedics), the independent training is then 3 years.


Plastic Surgery (integrated)


Similarly to cardiothoracic surgery, plastic surgery integrated residency is typically 6 years. If choosing to complete a surgical residency first (typically general surgery, otolaryngology, orthopedics), the independent training is then 3 years. 


Vascular Surgery (integrated)


Unlike cardiothoracic and plastic, vascular surgery integrated residency is typically 5 years. If choosing to complete a general surgery residency first, the independent training is then 2 years, making it the shortest residency of all integrated surgery specialties.





Urology residency is 5 years. Programs are categorical, but the first year is a general surgery internship, followed by 4 years of urology training.



How Long is Residency by Specialty: All Specialties Chart


Anesthesiology 4 years  PGY-1 year plus 3 years
Dermatology 4 years  PGY-1 year plus 3 years
Emergency Medicine 3-4 years Program dependent
Family Medicine 3 years
General Surgery 5 years May have required dedicated research years
Internal Medicine 3 years Chief year is an added 4th year
Med-Peds 4 years
Neurology 4 years
Ophthalmology 4 years
Orthopedic Surgery 5 years One year of general surgery
OBGYN 4 years
Pathology 4 years 3 years if specialized training in just anatomic or clinical/lab path
Pediatrics 3 years
Psychiatry 4 years
  Diagnostic radiology 5 years PGY-1 year plus 4 years
  Radiation Oncology 5 years PGY-1 year plus 4 years
  Interventional Radiology 6 years PGY-1 year plus 5 years
Surgery integrated programs
  Cardiothoracic Surgery 6 years
  Plastic Surgery 6 years
  Vascular Surgery 5 years
Urology 5 years One year of general surgery


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