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The Role of Resident Physicians

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Resident physicians (Resident) are individuals holding a medical degree (MD, DO), and who practice medicine under the supervision of fully licensed physicians, generally in a hospital or clinic environment. As part of the progression towards a medical license, residency may follow, or it may be included in, the first year of residency. A fellowship, designed to further train the physician in a sub-specialty, follows residency. Successful completion of residency training is a requirement to practice medicine in most states.

Building on the education received in medical schools, residency involves extensive training within a specific branch of medicine and leads to eligibility for board certification. Residencies are available in a number of specialties: anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, among others. International medical students may participate in a residency program within the United States, but only after completing the program established by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

Education and Training

All Residents have completed medical school, and received their medical degrees. Most residencies run from at least three years to seven years in highly specialized fields. In each year of training, the Resident is given increasing levels of responsibility.

Residents are supervised by more senior Residents and attending physicians. First-year Residents receive the closest supervision. As they move through their training, more responsibility is granted and they begin to assume the supervision of junior Residents. However, the ultimate responsibility for supervision of Residents lies with attending physicians.

Resident physicians spend a great deal of time taking part in educational activities. Rounds are a primary setting for education, but Residents are also required to attend formal educational conferences.

Roles and Responsibilities

As medical care professionals, Residents work closely with other members of the health care team, providing direct medical care to patients. Because they are physicians, one of their primary responsibilities is diagnosing patients’ medical problems and developing management and treatment plans. They also perform medical procedures appropriate to their medical specialty and level of training. In addition to providing direct patient care and participating in ongoing educational activities, including teaching rounds, taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, ordering and interpreting diagnostic studies.

Much of a Resident’s work and education, occurs during rounds. At this time, the team of physicians and other members of the health care team, move from patient to patient in order to assess progress, response to treatment, diagnostic developments, and to refine treatment plans. At other times, Residents are involved in performing diagnostic or treatment procedures, or conferring with consultants and other members of the health care team. A Resident’s first contact with newly admitted patients is in the Emergency Room, the main ward, a special care unit, or in an operating room. Admitting Resident physicians performs comprehensive admission histories and physical examinations, develop a diagnoses or problem lists, and provide diagnostic workup and treatment plans, which are generally reviewed and refined by more senior Residents or attending physicians before implementation.

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