Sep 21, 2023

Clerkship vs Internship vs Residency

Clinical Clerkship

Becoming a doctor involves a number of diverse experiences and milestones. Three of these are your clinical clerkship, internship, and residency. But how do these experiences compare? Indeed, they’re not the same thing. In this blog, we’ll discuss a clerkship vs internship vs residency and what you need to know about them.

Clerkship vs Internship vs Residency: Aren’t They the Same?

The answer is a definite no! Let’s talk about the differences between them and what they mean for you as an aspiring doctor.

Clinical Clerkship

Clerkships are also called rotations and happen during the third and fourth years of medical school. During rotations, medical students work under the supervision of medical staff to gain first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a doctor. This is the first opportunity to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to real life. You’ll also be exposed to different fields and specialties — like neurology, pediatrics, and surgery.

A single clerkship generally runs for four to 12 weeks. This is an opportunity to build a better foundation and set yourself up for success in the yearly Residency Match. Learn more about CHHA’s clinical clerkship program.


An internship happens during your first year of residency and lasts for one year, although some professionals decide to extend it. You’ll continue to work under the guidance of an experienced medical professional and get an even more detailed view of what it means to be a doctor.

This might include working directly with patients, diagnosing them and taking their histories, working with their families and caregivers, and doing medical procedures.

Your internship — plus STEP 3 of the USMLE — is required to become a general practitioner. During this time, you’ll finalize your specialization.

So, your clerkship happens toward the end of medical school, while internships happen after you’ve graduated. Also, a clerkship is more about gaining more general hands-on experience, while internships are a chance to pursue your specialization further.

IMGs in operating room during intership

Medical Residency

During your fourth year of medical school, you’ll apply for residency programs that include your specialty. You’ll start your residency after graduating, meaning you’re officially a doctor. On Match Day, you learn what program you’ve been accepted into.

Your residency can take place in either a hospital or clinic, and you’ll receive more in-depth training and experience within your chosen medical specialty. Residency can last anywhere from three to seven years. It depends on the program and your specialty.

As you probably can see, there’s some overlap between your internship and residency. In fact, your internship happens during residency. Residents will even sometimes be referred to as interns. Remember that as a resident, you are officially working in the medical environment and receiving a salary (which tends to increase over time).

Clerkship vs internship vs residency: You now know exactly how they’re alike and, importantly, how they’re different. All three are crucial in your medical journey and serve a unique purpose.

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