What Is a Chief Resident? (With How To Become and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Chief residents are important to residency programs of hospitals and tertiary institutions. These middle management professionals perform administrative, clinical and educational functions to ensure that the healthcare system delivers quality patient care, residents achieve mastery of their specializations and the program accomplish its objectives. To become a chief resident, it is important to understand the duties of the role and the qualifications you need to apply for the position. In this article, we discuss what a is chief resident, what their duties are, the steps to become one and the benefits of being a chief resident.

What is a chief resident?

A chief resident is the leader of a group of resident doctors in a residency program. The chief resident can supervise clinical duties, administrative functions and other activities determined by the program director and other senior doctors at a hospital. Chief residents are middle managers in the hospital setting. They mostly perform administrative functions, but they may also teach junior residents clinical practice and procedures and serve as liaisons between residents and the management of the residency program.

The procedure for choosing a chief resident depends on the residency program and a wide range of other factors. In many residency programs, residents rotate the post among themselves. Other programs might elect the chief resident, and the program director and a host of doctors choose the candidates. Chief residents need to have excellent management, administrative and clinical skills to perform their duties effectively. A good performance as a chief resident may boost your chances of employment after completing your residency and also help you develop vital leadership skills.

Related: Learn About Being a Doctor

What do chief residents do?

Chief residents perform a wide range of duties that vary depending on their specialization. The primary duty of chief residents is to ensure the effectiveness of the educational activities of the residency program. They also serve as advocates for other residents and inform directors of issues facing their peers in the program. They may have to attend meetings, create schedules and ensure that residents fulfill their program's clinical and administrative duties.

Here are other duties of chief residents:

  • Work with program directors and faculty to assign resident call schedule for the academic year

  • Liaise with residents who cannot fulfill their clinical obligations and work with the program directors to arrange schedule changes

  • Ensure the efficient and smooth operation of clinical services

  • Report cases of serious personal or disciplinary problems to the residency program director and appropriate faculty members

  • Collect feedback from residents regularly to understand challenges that are preventing them from performing duties effectively

  • Represent other residents in meetings and discussions related to policy and guidelines that can affect working environment and education

  • Teach and train residents on various aspects of clinical practices, including diagnosis and in-patient care

  • Meet with residents to share the key points of meetings with program directors

  • Collaborate with program staff and faculty to create and coordinate lecture schedule

  • Attend hospital committee meetings depending on availability and interests

  • Facilitate the recruitment process of new residents into the program

  • Perform clinical duties based on the needs of the program

  • Perform educational activities and other duties assigned by the program directors

Steps to become a chief resident

Follow these steps to become a chief resident:

1. Complete a bachelor's degree

The first step to becoming a chief resident is to complete your bachelor's degree. Most degrees leading to medical professions typically take up to four years. You can study pre-medicine, biology, biochemistry or another related field. Before you finish your degree, you have to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). This exam is a prerequisite for gaining admission into medical schools.

Read more: Entry Requirements for Medical School

2. Go to medical school

To become a doctor, you need to attend medical school where you will go through practical supervised medical training. Medical school typically last four years, but some specializations may take longer to complete. In the first two years, students learn about the basics of medicine, including patient care, pathology, biochemistry, pharmacology and anatomy. The last two years require students to shadow licensed healthcare professionals on rotations for practical medical experience.

Finishing medical school requires passing certain examinations. Before the end of your medical school, you have to pass the first two parts of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The first part takes place during the second and third years of your medical school, while the second part takes place in the fourth year of medical school.

3. Join a residency program

At the end of medical school, you need to join a residency program where you will gain experience in a hospital setting. Residencies provide trainee doctors general and specialized medical training and the duration depends on your field, such as neurosurgery or pediatrics. You can complete general physician and internal medicine residencies in two years while fields such as neurosurgery or endocrinology, which require more specialized training, often require a longer period of residency.

Related: Common Residency Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

4. Pursue the chief resident post

Once you are in a residency program, you can become a chief resident if you meet the program's requirement for the role. In two-year residency programs, the program director and faculties choose chiefs at the end of the first year and they serve their terms in the second year. Chief residents may sometimes need to serve an extra year in their residency program. If a program has a few number of residents, each resident may serve a rotational term or serve as a chief in a specific department.

Residency programs with several residents typically have highly competitive chief resident positions. In such programs, you may need to apply and satisfy academic and performance requirements to be chosen for the role. The program directors and a team of physicians may also interview you to ensure that you satisfy the criteria for the role. To increase your chances of getting the position, demonstrate to the program and faculty you have the administrative and clinical expertise to excel in the chief resident role.

Read more: Fellow vs. Resident: Definitions and Differences

Benefits of being a chief resident

Here are some benefits of being a chief resident:

Develop leadership skills

Being a chief resident provides a unique opportunity to lead people in a hospital setting. As a chief resident, you not only provide leadership to residents but also nursing assistants, administrative staff and a wide range of other professionals and personalities. This allows you to improve as a leader and gain vital skills for motivating people and helping them achieve a higher performance.

Improve residency programs

The chief resident role also offers the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the residency program. Chief residents liaise between residents and program directors and faculty members, helping the management understand the core needs of residents for effective and more efficient performance. As a chief resident, you can contribute to policy, improve residency curricula and even provide valuable insights to enhance the education of residents.

Enhance teaching experience

Being a chief resident can also make you a more effective teacher. The role involves taking other residents and medical students on patient runs where you can explain medical terminologies, perform diagnosis and carry out other educational functions that will make them better professionals at the end of their residency.

Better understanding of patient care

The role of chief resident places you at the forefront of patient care. It allows you to have an in-depth understanding of the needs of patients and how to deliver quality healthcare that improves their condition and reassures family members. Residencies also equip you with specialist skills that can help you diagnose patients' conditions accurately and create effective treatment plans.

Understand the healthcare business

Chief residents have to work with the hospital management on a wide range of administrative and clinical functions. This gives them a first-hand experience of how the business side of hospitals work, preparing them for future management roles. It can also show you the politics of the healthcare industry, providing valuable insights to navigate potential conflicts in the future.

Related: What Is a Physician? Your Guide To Physician Careers

Enhance administrative skills

Most of the work of chief residents is administrative. If you wish to become a health administrator, becoming a chief resident can prepare you for the role. It will show you the procedures, practices and policies hospitals rely on to keep their clinical and business operations running efficiently.

Advocate for others

The chief resident is also the chief advocate for co-residents. The position allows you to make a case for the welfare and educational needs of residents to ensure that each person in the program gets the resources and support they need to achieve their goals at the end of their residency. It also allows you to provide inputs for better patient care, since you interact with both the patients and healthcare administrators.

Improve employment opportunities

A chief resident role not only helps you improve your administrative and clinical skills, but it may also enhance employment opportunities. Being a chief resident allows you to develop the vital skills healthcare facilities are looking for in their frontline staff, which may give you an advantage over other candidates. The role may also increase your chances of getting into fellowship programs or to qualify for management roles in the healthcare sector.

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