Many people don’t realize that when they go into the hospital – be it a large academic medical center or a smaller community hospital – they may be cared for by a resident physician. In fact, there are over 100,000 resident physicians in the United States, employed in more than 1000 teaching hospitals. The federal government pays some $10 billion a year to hospitals to provide most of the funding for this Graduate Medical Education (GME).
Resident physicians – also referred to as residents or house officers or housestaff – have graduated from medical school (allopathic or osteopathic). That entitles them to put an MD or DO after their name. But they cannot be certified to practice independently until they have completed the training that is required by the specialty they have chosen, e.g. internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, ob-gyn. Specialty training lasts anywhere from three to five years, with additional years of training required for medical and surgical specialties, such as cardiology or vascular surgery.
Resident physicians work in every area of the hospital – from the emergency room to the OR, Intensive Care, the medical-surgical floors and labor and delivery, and in the outpatient clinics as well. They are supervised by physicians who have completed their training and, in turn, residents teach medical students, as well as their junior resident colleagues. Famous for their grueling work hours, resident physicians today are still routinely scheduled for 80 hour work weeks and shifts for residents in all but their first year of training can last as long as 27 consecutive hours. The CIR Policy and Education Initiative recognizes that resident physicians are an important part of the social safety net, providing essential care in urban teaching hospitals that serve large, diverse and economically vulnerable communities. At a pivotal time in their training as physicians, resident leaders are also early adopters of the professional attitudinal and behavior change that is essential to achieve the safe, effective and just healthcare system we seek.