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May 15th, 2013

The Next Step: Fellowship Applications

Jonathan Schwartz

toxicology fellows at UMassThe end of the academic year is fast-approaching, which means many changes and exciting transitions lie ahead – for all levels of trainees: medical students and new interns, brand-new attending physicians, and seasoned diagnosticians alike.  One of the more stressful tasks facing many of the senior residents in the coming months is the fellowship application process.  We recently held a program-wide gathering here at the University of Colorado to discuss tips that potentially can ease the process – and possibly even calm the nerves of anxious soon-to-be fellowship applicants.  I completed the fellowship match process this past year, and identified a few pointers that would have been helpful to know prior to applying. Here’s my list of 8 tips to get the perfect fellowship:

  1. Create or update your curriculum vitae.  The ERAS fellowship application mirrors the ERAS residency application, so, if you happen to have saved yours from a few years ago, you can use it to speed the data entry.  Additionally, investing a substantial amount of time and effort in producing a high-quality personal statement will likely reap great benefits in the form of interview invitations.  These two tasks will get your foot in the door… the interview is your time to shine, and stand out from the pack.
  2. Request letters of recommendation — early!  Clearly, you’ll want a letter from your residency program director, as well as your research mentor (if you have completed research).  Additionally, I would recommend at least two other letters, ideally from faculty members with whom you have worked closely and who agree to write a strong letter on your behalf.  Having letters from faculty in the field to which you are applying is probably best, but not an absolute must – particularly if you have worked a significant amount of time with another mentor that can write a very strong letter.  A letter that details your clinical skills as well as personal attributes (and potentially research aptitude) will take you far in the application process, regardless of whether or not the author is in your selected field. It is a fantastic idea to have your letter writers begin working on the letters very soon.  When the application officially opens (EFDO tokens will be available on June 12th, 2013),  you have approximately 2-4 weeks to complete it before having the option to send it to programs (and I strongly recommend submitting your application to programs as early as possible).  Most residency programs have a process that will keep the letters confidential until the application opens; investigate this now, so you will be ready.  You also might want to contact your program director to discuss the details of the letter they will be writing on your behalf.
  3. Focus on creating a list of programs that pique your interest.  Many factors must be considered during this process – and these are highly individual. Ideally, you’ll find a handful of programs that:  a) are strong in the subspecialty to which you’re applying, b) have mentors and/or research that aligns with your interests, and c) are feasible matches for you.
  4. Closely review websites for specific programs before submitting your application.  Some programs have special requests with regard to your application – topics you need to address in your personal statement, specific requests with regard to letters of recommendation, or other tasks.  These guidelines are often used by programs as a first-pass filter (anyone who does not follow the instructions might be quickly rejected; the “shotgun” approach to applications – applying broadly without any knowledge about the program in particular, is not ideal nor recommended).  Also, each website provides a wonderful way to learn more about the program.  If you have a specific research interest, try to identify a few faculty members whose research potentially align with your interests, and who conceivably could serve as a mentor should you match into their program.  Most programs will ask if you would like to meet a particular faculty member during your interview.  Having someone in mind demonstrates strong interest.
  5. Meet with the program director of the subspecialty to which you are applying at your home institution.  He or she can help you create your list of programs, and also also might know faculty at programs across the nation to which you are applying.  Program directors are potentially a fantastic resource that many applicants do not take advantage of, but definitely should!
  6. Submit a professional photo with your application if possible, but I do not think this is a requirement.  That said, many programs receive countless applications each year (many in excess of 100 times the number of positions available), and if the program is able to put a face with an application, it can help to distinguish you from the rest of the field.  A good first impression is a lasting impression – this is not the time for humor!
  7. Talk to the current fellows in your selected subspecialty at your institution.  Not only can they provide specific tips about the application process for your chosen field (each one seems to have a few quirks), but also they are the best resource for overall tips – considering that they just completed the process last year.
  8. Finally, start saving money (a small fortune might be necessary in some cases!) for the whole process… expenses mount rapidly , especially if you apply to many programs and accept many interviews.  Application to 10 programs is included in your the initial fee; beyond this, extra fees will apply (the amount varies depending upon how many programs you ultimately choose).

I hope you have found this list helpful, rather than stress-inducing!  I am happy to answer questions – leave a comment below and I will try to reply.  Deep breaths, and good luck!

2 Responses to “The Next Step: Fellowship Applications”

  1. Nadim El Majzoub says:

    Dear Dr. Schwartz,
    Good day,

    Thank you for these very helpful tips, will keep them in mind when applying for my fellowship.

    Before asking you my question, let me introduce my myself:
    My name is Nadim El Majzoub, I am currently a third year Laboratory Medicine Resident at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. In 2002, I received my Bachelors in Science in Biology, in 2004 received my Masters in Physiology, and in 2008 received my Medical Degree. I did 2 years of post doctorate training in the Department of Internal Medicine then joined the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. In the hospital I am training in, these 2 specialties are separate and thus we get to choose one of them to specialize in. I have published 12 papers so far, and am working on a new project at the moment.

    Given the fact that I am not American Board Certified, what are my chances of being accepted in the United States to do a Bacteriology fellowship?

    Thank you in advance, and looking forward to hearing your advice.

  2. Samir Desai says:

    The fellowship advice offered by Dr. Schwartz above is excellent. These are many of the points I discuss with my residents who are interested in pursuing subspecialty training. Competition for fellowship positions is increasing in many disciplines. Therefore, it’s incredibly important for trainees to develop and strengthen relationships with faculty. It’s not unusual for me to work with trainees well into their residency training who have decided on their subspecialty career choice but have not initiated or formed meaningful relationships with faculty in the field. Your faculty advocates will be very important in the application process. You will need strong letters of recommendation for sure but advocates can also make calls on your behalf to coveted programs. These efforts can open doors for interview, and can reinforce your interest in the program following your interview visit. You can’t expect this type of support if you don’t make it a point to nurture these relationships. The good news is that faculty want to help you realize your professional goals. You just have to remember to keep building these important relationships.

    A letter that details your clinical skills as well as personal attributes (and potentially research aptitude) will take you far in the application process,

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