Chief residents are the senior residents of any given program. It is often the final step of your medical residency training before you become a fully licensed physician. Usually, medical residents are required to spend some time as the chief resident—or they need to apply for the job in their final year of residency. After finishing your time as chief resident, you’ll move onto the next stage of your medical career! This might mean a medical fellowship or finding a job as a fully trained physician. In this blog, we’ll look at the roles and responsibilities of a chief resident, how it can help you advance your medical career and how to clinch the top spot in your residency program!

>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free initial consultation here <<

Article Contents
4 min read

What is a Chief Resident? Importance of Chief Residency How to Become a Chief Resident FAQs

What is a Chief Resident?

Chief residents, sometimes called senior residents, are resident doctors who are in their final year of residency training or the leader of their residency group. Chief residents take on additional responsibilities and job duties, from the administrative to training and advocating for their fellow residents.

Sometimes, chief residents need to apply for the position or are voted into a position of leadership. Other times, chief residents become senior residents as soon as they reach the final year of their residency training program. For instance, in residency programs with larger cohorts, like family medicine residency, you might need to apply for the role of chief resident and compete for the top spot. In smaller residency programs, every resident might become a senior or chief resident, as is common in surgery specialties like neurosurgery residency.

Becoming the chief resident comes with a great deal of responsibility and is considered a big honor in most programs. It shows you’ve worked hard and demonstrated the qualities and attributes of a good doctor.

Chief Resident Job Responsibilities

Here are some of the job duties a chief resident will take on:

Importance of Chief Residency

For some specialties, it may be required for you to spend some time (usually 6-12 months) in the chief resident spot. Even if it’s not a requirement for your specialty, you may have ambitions of becoming the chief resident or be interested in taking on a leadership role.

Residents who are interested in furthering their career, pursuing a role in a physician administrator role, an academic research role or even a teaching position at a hospital or medical school would look to become chief resident. It is essentially the first chance you’ll have to move from becoming a student to becoming the teacher.

Becoming chief resident allows you to develop important skills, but it can also help you find a job after residency or plan your future after residency if you have a specific role or placement in mind. Of course, being the chief resident also comes with a nice bump in pay, since they are among the highest paid residents.

Should I apply for the Chief Resident position?

Some time as a chief resident certainly is a nice addition to your physician resume, but if you’re still unsure about what direction you want your career to go after residency, it’s worth considering. You can talk to a physician career advisor about the different career paths that might appeal to you, but chances are your time in residency has also revealed to you the roles and jobs you enjoy. For those residents who need to opt in and apply for a chief resident position, it’s worth deciding early on whether this is something you’d like to pursue, since your performance as an intern and “junior” resident can help you land the top spot.

If you’re just starting in your residency or you’re still a bit murky on your future plans, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do I enjoy leadership positions?
  2. Do I enjoy teaching and collaborating with other residents?
  3. Would I enjoy an administrative role at a hospital/clinic/office?
  4. Am I interested in a teaching or academic position once my residency is finished?
  5. Do I want to stay on in a position at this hospital/residency program/clinic?

Of course, if your residency requires you to act as chief residency for a time or the responsibilities of a chief resident are shared among all the residents in a program, your experience will be a little different. In this case, you can talk with your residency program director or supervising physician about gaining some leadership experience or training experience within your program. If there are fewer opportunities for you to grow and develop your professional skillset than you anticipated, it never hurts to ask for chances to prove yourself or move in the direction you want!

How to Become a Chief Resident

For residents who need to apply for the chief resident position, the selection process is quite similar to applying for residency. You’ll want to know what residency program directors look for in a chief resident or what makes a good chief resident. Refresh your memory by looking at the ideal qualities and attributes of a physician, as laid out by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). In Canada, these are called the CanMEDS roles, which you may already be familiar with when you applied to medical school.

ACGME Core Competencies vs. CanMEDS Roles

We’ll outline the ACGME Core Competencies and CanMEDS roles here:

  • Medical Knowledge Competency vs. Medical Expert Role
  • Interpersonal skills and communication Competency vs. Communicator and Collaborator Roles
  • Systems-based Practice Competency vs. Manager Role
  • Practice-based Learning and Improvement Competency vs. Scholar Role
  • Professionalism Competency vs. Professional Role
  • No ACGME Equivalent vs. Health Advocate Role

Qualities of a Good Chief Resident

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), these are some of the top qualities that directors look for when selecting chief residents:

  • Helpfulness
  • Dedication
  • Clinical performance
  • Co-resident input
  • Faculty evaluation
  • Approachability
  • Indicated interest

How to Get the Chief Resident Spot

Here are some tips on how you can get the chief resident spot and demonstrate these core competencies and qualities!


1. What is a chief resident?

A chief resident, sometimes called a senior resident, is a medical resident in their final year of medical school. A chief resident has additional responsibilities including administrative, training and mentorship. 

2. What makes a good chief resident?

A good chief resident needs to be an excellent leader. They should have strong communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills. They also need to be organized, empathetic, approachable and dedicated.

3. Is it hard to become a chief resident?

It depends on the program. Some residency programs all residents in their final year are considered “chief residents”. Other programs, you need to apply for the position of chief resident or be voted in. For larger residencies, getting the spot of chief residency is often a bit more competitive and harder to get.

4. Do chief residents get paid more?

Yes. Chief residents are paid a little more than your average resident, across specialties. Since chief residents often take on more responsibility or additional duties, the change comes with a bit of a pay bump.

5. Can there be 2 chief residents?

Yes. Some residency programs have 2 chief resident positions or co-chief residents. In this position, teamwork is even more essential as you need to work with your co-chief to oversee the residents and provide leadership.

6. Do you need to apply for chief resident?

In some residency programs, yes. Most of the time, you’ll need to apply for chief residency in the primary care residencies or larger programs where there is a bigger number of residents working.

7. Is it good to become chief resident?

Becoming the chief resident is considered a tremendous honor. It is a position which allows you to become a leader in your residency program, and it can help you get certain high-profile jobs after your residency is complete and you are a fully licensed physician. If your ambitions include becoming a leader in the medical field, teaching, health administration or other high-profile position, getting the chief residency spot is a worthy goal.

8. Should I apply for chief resident?

If you are debating whether to apply to a chief residency position or not, you should ask yourself some questions to decide whether it is the right choice for you. For instance, chief residents often take on more administrative roles or leadership positions. If this isn’t of interest to you, and you’re not required to complete some time as a chief resident, you may choose to skip it. If you are interested in an admin role, a teaching position or you want to “climb the ladder” of your position, applying to the chief residency position is the first step.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Want more free tips? Subscribe to our channels for more free and useful content!




Apple Podcasts