challenges of medical residency

5 Big Challenges of Medical Residency

There’s no shortage of demanding situations and circumstances when it comes to medical residency. The rigors of an unparalleled work and training schedule, compounded with personal life demands can leave anyone frustrated with the challenges of medical residency and fumbling to navigate their way through the ins and outs of these transitional years. 

Residency may be chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be out of control! The first step to gaining control over the challenges of medical residency is to identify them, then find resources and form a plan that works for you & your family. To help you get a head start and gain control, we’ve identified what we believe are the top five challenges of medical residency, plus some ideas and resources to help you overcome them! 


Coming in hot, at the very top of our list of stressors, is finances. The financial position of medical residents is incomparable to that of any other profession. Do you know any other job that requires six figures of debt to begin, yet only has an average starting salary of $55,000? All this while facing other huge financial decisions, such as moving, purchasing a home, and/or having children. 

Decisions and habits made now set the tone for one’s financial state for the rest of their life. Approaching finances blindly as a resident can have repercussions that both cause stress in the present, and can avert future financial goals. Proper planning and discipline, however, will give direction and guidance on long and short-term financial decisions. 

Although you may want to, it’s impossible to hide from financial responsibility during this time. For more information on managing your finances in residency, see our Financial Planning Guide or follow sites like Financial Residency and White Coat Investor to learn more about managing your money as a physician. Consulting with a financial planner who is familiar with the distinctive obstacles and nuances of residency can also help get you on the right track. 

Time Management

Time is a precious commodity during the residency years. Aside from patient care, residents are expected to read, study, take call, teach, keep staff and attendings updated, and possibly even research. This would be more than enough as is, but in a less-than-ideal world, residents also often get strapped with jobs outside of their scope, such as clerical and social work. 

We’ve yet to even consider life outside of work. Residents need time to take care of themselves, visit with family/friends, rest, and tend to various other obligations.

Time management is crucial during residency, and a solid, yet flexible plan can yield both productivity and peace. To learn more about managing time as a resident, see this article from the AMA. 

Keeping up with the demands of work

Residents have a lot to learn. While they are doctors with full responsibilities, they are also still learning and under the guidance and authority of senior residents and attendings. In addition to learning the basics, residents must stay up to speed on new developments, which happen frequently and can take time and research to locate. The knowledge gap and high stakes can leave anyone feeling frazzled and behind the game. 

There is no universal approach to most effectively acquiring the needed medical knowledge and skills to best treat patients. Each resident is unique, and finding your individual systems is key to balancing work and educational demands. For some guidance on how to learn efficiently in residency, check out this article from Knowledge Plus. 

Balancing work and life responsibilities

Life stressors that happen to everyone do not stop for residents during the residency years. Vehicles still break down, illnesses happen, and the unexpected occurs. Accepting the reality that one can’t do everything is the first step in achieving a sense of balance. Priorities are essential now. It can be easy for a resident to let work overtake their life at the expense of other things, but this is a recipe for burnout. Time with family and friends, as well as time devoted to hobbies and self-care, are essential to optimal mental health and functioning.

To learn more about finding a balance between work and life responsibilities in the residency years, check out this article from Practice Link. 

Interpersonal Work Relationships

Residency has long been known for the harsh treatment of residents by attendings and senior residents. It has even been seen as a rite of passage. A 2009 study of U.S. residents found that 69.8% had experienced workplace abuse. Thankfully, awareness and reform are changing this reality, but it is still very real for many residents. This doesn’t take into account the troubled personalities, interpersonal conflicts, and toxicity that can occur in any job. 

Working in such conditions can be damaging to one’s physical and mental health, as well as relationships. For more information on how to identify and navigate a toxic work environment, see this article from the Cleveland Clinic.

The medical residency years are unlike the training of any other profession, with no shortage of difficulties. The demands of education, patient care, and other responsibilities and circumstances can take their toll on the resident’s mind, body, and relationships. However, knowledge and preparation will put you way ahead if you’re looking to proactively tackle the challenges of medical residency.


  • Elizabeth Landry

    Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and Founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

    View all posts

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