Being an MD without residency does not mean you won’t be able to work in the medical field. After researching how to prepare for residency applications, or how to improve your residency application after going unmatched, you might have realized that residency represents a challenge that you’re not willing to undertake. You would have to answer tricky residency interview questions and complete the MSPE, among other steps of the residency application process. But is it really necessary for you to complete a residency program after medical school? What happens if you don’t? Will you still be able to work as a doctor? Keep reading to find out!

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Is Residency Required After Medical School? Can I Get a Medical License Without Completing a Residency Program? Career Options for MDs or DOs Without Residency or Medical License Conclusion FAQs

Is Residency Required After Medical School?

Your medical residency is the period in which you learn to perform all the tasks and duties of your specialty. Your objective as a medical resident is to become a fully independent physician, able to provide patient care without supervision. Residency programs are intensive and challenging, and represent thousands of hours of valuable hands-on experience, which is fundamental for healthcare professionals. But how important is it to complete a residency program? Let’s start by saying that completing a residency is not mandatory. You can choose not to pursue a residency, but you need to be aware of the fact that it will significantly narrow down your career options. Many healthcare professionals would agree that residency is where you start to become a genuine physician. As a doctor, you will find yourself in many scenarios which you won’t be able to control without gaining enough real-life experience first, which is why residency training is very important. So, if you choose to bypass a residency, be prepared to give up on becoming a physician in the US or Canada.

But if you’ve finished medical school, you’ve still made it pretty far! The knowledge you have acquired can serve many purposes besides clinical practice; so there is still a wide variety of options for you to consider as potential professional paths. While some of them do not require residency, they might require some sort of additional training, certification, or experience.

Still debating if residency is for you and unsure if you're on the right track for residency applications? Check this infographic:

Can I Get a Medical License Without Completing a Residency Program? 

Your medical license is what will allow you to practice medicine legally and examine patients without supervision. Unfortunately, a medical license is not something you automatically obtain when you earn your medical degree. Each country has different requirements and regulations, but obtaining your license will typically require you to complete at least one year of residency. If you want to obtain your medical license in the United States, you will have to pass the USMLE step 1, the USMLE step 2 CK, and the USMLE step 3, as well as at least one year of a medical residency program. Requirements vary slightly from state to state, and they are also different for international medical graduates. This means that if you want to obtain a medical license and become a practicing physician, you cannot avoid the residency application and interview processes, as well as at least some minimal residency training.

If you are an MD or DO who thinks that residency is not an option for you, consider the career options we list below.

Career Options for MDs or DOs Without Residency or Medical License


If you thought that being an MD without residency wouldn’t take you far professionally, you were wrong. While not having a residency does limit your career options significantly, there are numerous alternative paths that you might have never considered if you were to pursue a medical specialty. In most cases you will have to undertake additional training, although as an MD you will have a huge advantage over people who are just starting to get involved in medicine. Do a little introspection and find out what your interests are, and what kind of job attracts you the most. Do you like patient interaction? Do you feel more inclined towards a desk job? Are you willing to invest a couple of years in a Master’s degree or are you looking for ways to enter the workforce as quickly as possible? Don’t worry, the possibilities are endless!


1. Is residency mandatory after medical school?

No. Completing a residency program is not mandatory, but choosing not to undertake residency will prevent you from becoming an independent physician. However, there are many alternative paths that you can follow without residency training.

2. How important is residency?

Completing a residency program will allow you to become a fully independent and capable physician in your chosen medical specialty. Residency programs are intensive and require years of hard work and commitment. It is during your residency that you will gain significant work experience and develop all the skills that you will need to practice medicine.

3. How long is a residency program?

Medical school is normally 4 years long, but how long is residency? Depending on the specialty, residency programs usually last 3 to 8 years.

4. I want to keep studying but I don’t want to pursue a specialty. What are my options?

Doctors are life-long learners and there will always be something new to discover or learn about in the field of medicine. As an MD you have already acquired valuable knowledge of the human body and medical science in general, so completing additional courses and certifications will not be as time-consuming and challenging as if you were doing it from scratch. Courses in aesthetic medicine, massage therapy, and wound care will allow you to consider more diverse career opportunities within healthcare. If you are up for a challenge, you might like the idea of pursuing a Master’s.

5. Do I automatically obtain a medical license after finishing medical school?

Unfortunately, not. In order to obtain a medical license in the USA you are required to pass a series of exams and complete at least a year of residency.

6. Can I still work in healthcare without a license?

Yes, roles in medicine are extremely diverse and there are options for all kinds of doctors. The most common careers for MDs without a license are those which don’t involve patient interaction, such as roles in the pharmaceutical industry, research and academic work in general.

7. Do I need to have completed residency to work in medical research?

No. Research teams are composed by a variety of professionals from diverse scientific fields and academic backgrounds. You can even take part in research projects as a medical student, which is actually greatly encouraged to improve your residency CV.

8. I don’t like interacting with patients. What career options would be more suitable for me?

When we think of the medical profession, we picture hospitals, practices, and patients. However, there are quite a few desk jobs that you can consider as an MD. If you master a foreign language and have solid knowledge of grammar and punctuation, medical translation could be an exciting option for you. If you only speak your native language but still like the idea of working with scientific texts and publications, you can also become a medical editor and help other doctors work on their own papers. You can even become self-employed and work from home.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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