How to study during residency requires a balance of the right tools and the right mindset, as well as that elusive work-life balance. Your residency years will be some of the hardest of your early career, and it’s never too early to start studying up on how to study for residency, even if you’re still preparing your residency app. For those about to begin their residency, it’s important to study effectively, and start studying now. In this blog, we’ll learn some tips for surviving in residency, study advice for residency, what exams you’ll take as a resident and how professional study services can help.

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Article Contents
6 min read

Tips for surviving in residency Study tips for residency Residency exams to study for Professional study help Conclusion FAQs

Tips for surviving in residency

The best way to learn how to survive working and studying during your medical residency years is to realize that you can never prepare for absolutely everything. But you can and should prepare yourself for the things you know you can expect. Residency will be a busy, stressful and taxing period of your medical study, both physically and mentally. It may feel like you’re getting less sleep than new parents, and that you’re working 24/7. Seasoned doctors can tell you what being a resident doctor is like, and they will tell you that it will be tougher than you’ve been told or can imagine. But residency, like any challenge, can be managed and overcome with the proper mindset and tools. And remember, this is a challenge many doctors before you have faced, so you know it can be done.

The two keys to studying during residency are the habits and the mindset. Studying during your residency will set you up for the remainder of your medical career, so adopting good study habits now will mean less stress down the road. More importantly, adopting a growth mindset will continue to pay dividends in every area of your life from now on.

1. Residency study habits

Residency is hard physically and mentally. Along with studying for your exams, you’ll be working long hours and juggling your personal and family life along with it. How long your residency is may depend on your specialty, but it will take multiple years to get through, so its best to start building good study and life habits now. You’ll need to learn to balance your work, study and home life as a resident and future doctor, so developing and maintaining a good med school study schedule, if you haven’t already is a first step.

It’s also important to remind yourself that there will be an overlap of study, work and personal, but you can and should take mental breaks from the study and work part. Burning yourself out isn’t going to do you any favours. Aside from tips on how to study during residency, which we’ll explore more below, it's imperative to develop physical stress relief habits like exercising, meditation or daily mindfulness rituals. Take a precious few minutes from your day to practice some mental or physical stress relief—your studies will thank you.

2. Residency study mindset

The other half of the residency success formula is developing a good mindset. Residency will be a tax on your mental and emotional self as much as your physical self. Along with a demanding work schedule and the need to continuously study for rigorous exams, you’ll be learning how to be a practicing physician. For the first time, you’ll be in the driver’s seat. Sure, you’ll have an experienced passenger to help navigate the roads, but you’ll no longer be a back seat observer.

The stakes are now shot into the stratosphere. As the operator of the vehicle of medicine you’re in, there will be lives in your hands. Patients will be depending on the skills and knowledge you’ve accumulated so far, and you may be in situations that are completely unexpected or adrenaline-spiking.

From day one, it’s important to embrace the challenge that is residency. You’re there to learn, you’re there to work and you’re there to study medicine. Take each day as it comes and be open to being a lifelong student.

If you have a family, you may find these tips to surviving med school with a family helpful as well:

Study tips for residency

As part of embracing the lifelong learning aspect of residency, remember that the study you’ll do during residency has a purpose beyond preparing you for your board exams or licensing exams like the USMLE Step 3, or the MCCQE Part II if you’re a Canadian med student. Studying is part of a being a doctor, and you’ll be able to make use of high-yield study techniques and strategies throughout your career.

If you’re already familiar with our advice for how to study in medical school and how to prepare for your clinical rotations, you already have some of these study strategies under your belt to take into your residency training, but we’ll highlight some more techniques and strategies here.

Another thing to keep in mind is you’ll need to start studying from day one of your residency. You’ll have little time as it is from here on out, so don’t wait until the weeks or months before your exam to start break open your textbooks or review your materials.

Interested in a quick overview of these tips? This infographic is for you:

Residency exams to study for

Your residency years will involve a few different medical examinations, depending on your specialty and country of study. After your residency years are completed, you’ll be looking at taking the big league exams—your board exams. During your residency, you’ll need to study for in-training exams (ITE), which are a bit like final exams to gauge your progress each year and to help you get ready to take your board certifications.

Of course, you’ll need to take your USMLE Step 3 if you’re a US resident doctor. There are plenty of USMLE Step 3 prep courses you can take and other resources to help you ace this test. Typically, med students will take this exam after graduation or in their first year of residency. USMLE recommends taking this exam near the end of just after completion of your first year of residency study. So in all, the first year of residency equals a lot of studying for exams.

For Canadian med students, the MCCQE part I is usually taken before residency starts, and Part II is taken during the residency years. If you’re an international medical graduate applying for residency in the US or Canada, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these exams and the application criteria.

The content of the USMLE Step 3 will be familiar if you’ve already studied for and taken the USMLE Step 2 CK and the USMLE Step 1. The USMLE Step 3 is a two-day exam, taken online, with around 500 multiple-choice questions and computer-based simulations. The test assesses your clinical abilities, diagnostic skill and patient management. Typically, 45-55% of the questions will revolve around patient management, and other topics include history and physical exam information, labs and diagnostic studies, prognosis and pathophysiology, which fill up the remaining half of the exam. Questions will cover initial workup, continued care and emergency care simulation situations.

All of these exams will have similar study strategies, such as utilizing practice exams and study guides and employing the study habits we’ve outlined above. Practice tests and questions, in particular, will prepare you to answer the kinds of questions the exam will present.

Are you going through residency but aren't sure about the specialty you've chosen? This video can help you determine what's best for you:

Professional study help

Professional study help can be the best friend of those studying during residency. Residents can turn to professional study help to learn more about the exams they will need to take, strategies and tips for taking these exams, to develop their study skills and to get feedback on their exam answers and approach to exam questions.

Online study guides are also heavily utilized by med students and residents for their medical studies. Study guides can include comprehensive textbooks on the exams and their content, textbooks, prep courses, question banks and practice tests. Many of these online study guides also have mobile app versions now, so you can take your study on the go. This can be very helpful in incorporating your study into your daily schedule.


Studying during residency might be a panic-inducing thought considering the already taxing workload you’ll be tackling. But it is essential to study during residency, to start studying early and to study well. Part of the panic can be assuaged by developing and improving those good study habits and effective study strategies. Use every tool in your tool belt and remember to attack the residency challenge from all sides with a strong physical, mental and emotional effort. And remember that residency is a time for learning, growth and development, so get excited about becoming a real doctor and taking your skills to the next level!


1. Do doctors study during residency?

Yes. Resident doctors take in-training exams (ITE) during their residency years, and they may also need to study for their medical licensing exams such as the USMLE Step 3, the MCCQE Part II or their board certifications.

2. How do I study during residency?

Studying during your residency should become part of your daily life. Your schedule will already be busy, so you need to find ways to add study time. You’ll need a well-organized study schedule, set study goals and good study strategy and tools to help you prepare for your exams.

3. How hard is medical residency?

Medical residency is largely considered one of the biggest challenges of medical education as you transition from being a medical student to a practicing doctor. The first year of residency, in particular is considered the toughest as you make this transition, on top of long work hours and the need to study for exams.

4. How to maintain work-life balance during residency?

Maintaining work-life balance during residency isn’t easy, but it’s important to set aside time to take care of yourself. Work some mental and physical stress relief into your day, and remember to take breaks from studying and working when you can.

5. How to prepare for USMLE Step 3?

Study guides and professional study help come in handy when studying for this exam, but practice tests and solid study strategies are also some of the best ways to prepare yourself for this challenging test.

6. Should I take USMLE Step 3 before or during residency?

USMLE recommends you take the Step 3 exam at the end of your first year of residency, although some may decide to take it before their residency starts to get it out of the way.

7. How many hours will I work during residency?

Depending on your specialty and position, you can expect to work 40-80 hours a week. At minimum, you’ll be working full-time hours on top of studying for exams, so expect an extremely busy schedule.

8. Can professional study help during residency?

Absolutely. Professional study help can be an excellent tool to develop your study skills and prepare you for some of the toughest years of medical study. Professional study help can provide you with strategies, advice and feedback when you’re studying to take any of your medical exams.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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