After you have finally received your hard-earned M.D., you may feel that you have completed school. However, all doctors continue their education after medical school in some way. Residencies, fellowships, and other graduate medical education opportunities are required before working as a licensed physician.
Dr. Alexander Everest, a healthcare Executive with over 20 years experience, describes the different programs that physicians can undertake after graduating from medical school with an M.D., including residencies, fellowships, and research positions.
All doctors in the United States undertake residencies after they graduate from medical school. Medical residency is the training period you need to undergo before you can practice on your own as a medical doctor. Residents can act as medical doctors with supervision. They can treat patients as they see fit, though they sometimes need approval from their residency supervisors.
Medical residencies can last anywhere from three to seven years. They work between 40 and 80-hour weeks. During a residency, a doctor receives specialized training in one or more medical specialties. They may rotate through several different fields of medicine. They will probably be able to treat patients independently as part of a residency community in a teaching hospital.
A fellowship happens after a residency takes place. Within a medical fellowship position, a doctor can receive training in their chosen medical specialty. Obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, and cardiology are just a few examples of the many types of fellowship that a doctor can partake.
Fellows can focus on particular patient populations and develop expertise related to a specific organ system. These fellowships can teach doctors how to work with diverse medical situations and ensure that their specialty care is beyond compare.
For example, a medical fellow interested in primary care may also pursue a fellowship in geriatrics. This will help them treat the older patients that are the backbone of many practices. A cardiologist may want to study interventional cardiology or surgery.
A fellowship can last from one to three years. Medical fellows generally work about 69 hours a week. The pay is low, but the rewards are many.
Some fellowships may be centered on research rather than on clinical care. A clinical research fellowship is also scheduled to take one to three years. Research fellowships are prestigious positions, and they often lead to a doctor receiving an M.D./Ph.D. degree.
Clinical research fellows have a diverse role in the medical community. Their roles can cover any part of clinical research, from clinical trials to basic science questions. Many clinical research fellows work on pharmaceuticals and vaccines, including the new COVID vaccines. These fellows are key to resuming normal life in the United States.
Research requires obtaining new skills. Structured training fellowships help medical doctors understand the basics of conducting original research. Research fellowships can provide an essential and exciting means of advancing medical science to treat more patients and overcome significant obstacles.
What to Expect
Doctors should be aware that residencies and fellowships are generally paid on a relatively low stipend. They will not be able to make any significant headway on their medical student loans while they are engaging in advanced medical training of this type. Fortunately, many fellowships count as education, meaning that student loans do not come due during this period of time.
Fellows and residents work long hours with few breaks. Their schedule is almost as punishing as that of medical school, but most doctors will be used to the high workload and lack of sleep by this point. They can experience the personal satisfaction of treating patients while they are residents, solidifying their belief in themselves as medical professionals.
In addition to the long hours, being a medical resident or fellow is mentally taxing. Flexing new muscles as a freshly trained doctor can be a huge adjustment, and doctors in residency can be forced into unfamiliar daily experiences. This constantly changing workload is excellent practice for being a fully-fledged doctor.
Applying for Residencies
Since nearly every doctor in the United States serves a residency, the process of getting matched with a hospital is grueling and competitive. Doctors apply to multiple residency programs, and if selected, are interviewed about their expectations for the program and their personal skills and talents. Finally, every March, “Match day” comes, and young doctors are given their interview results.
The process of starting a residency is exciting. A doctor most often moves to a new city and becomes part of a new medical community, making new friends and building community connections.
Understanding the Residency and Fellowship
Alexander Everest understands how difficult a residency or fellowship can be. Regardless of the programs’ difficulty, they are necessary to help young doctors become fully-fledged members of the medical community. When doctors are ready for a new challenge after medical school, they can leap into a residency and then a fellowship. Doctors can choose specialties that best play into their strengths and interests.