July 11th, 2012
Panel: How to Develop the Best Fellowship Application — Part II
Cardiology fellowship applications are due during the next few weeks. We sat down with moderators of our Fellowship Training blog to ask for their advice regarding the application process and how residents can best prepare for it.
We are joined by Dr. James de Lemos, past Cardiology Fellowship Program Director at UT Southwestern, Dr. Andrew Kates, Cardiology Fellowship Program Director at Washington University, St. Louis, and Dr. John Ryan, Cardiology Fellow at University of Chicago.
This is Part II of a two-part series. Part I concerns the personal statement and choosing who will write your letters of recommendation.
CardioExchange: For residents who have not published research, will that affect their ability to be competitive for academic programs?
de Lemos: The short answer is yes, it definitely will. We’re in the business of repopulating our ranks with future academic cardiologists. Even programs that are not hard-core academic also look carefully at research as it may be an indirect barometer of drive and organization/multitasking skills. Still, it is not an absolute must; most of us still rank highly the best purely clinical applicants. Research is an important piece, but only a piece, of the puzzle. Just putting in time for research isn’t enough. “Closing” projects is also important, as is being able to articulately describe your research in your personal statement and interview. Too often, residents are not really committed and are just filling in the blanks with research. We try to see through this in the evaluation process. For this reason, it is important that a research mentor write one of your letters. The absence of a letter from the research mentor is a sign that the applicant either didn’t do good research work or didn’t do much of anything at all.
Kates: Not necessarily. What we are looking most for is intellectual curiosity. Some residents may have undertaken research but not accumulated adequate data to publish, or the data obtained may have not been accepted for publication. I do want to hear about the research the applicant is involved in and, especially, his or her role in the research. Above all we are looking for cardiologists who want to be leaders — be it in research, education, or patient care.
Ryan: Applicants can still be competitive without published research, but the research performed during residency does help, albeit it does not need to be ground-breaking or bench research. It can be an audit, for example, or a comprehensive review paper. What distinguishes applicants is their ability to start a research project, get a poster accepted at a meeting, and follow it all the way through to a publication. The research does not need to be what the resident is going to concentrate on for the rest of his or her career — it is the process, the acquired skills, and the demonstrated diligence to create a finished product that academic programs are looking for.
CardioExchange: Do applicants need to differentiate themselves by knowing what field of cardiology they want to go into, namely imaging, interventional, etc.?
de Lemos: Not necessarily, but it does help to list the areas that are highest on the list. The key is to show direction and focus, like you have really thought this all through. Listing your likely career trajectory helps to demonstrate this.
Kates: Applicants do not need to be differentiated in this way. It is ok to be sincere in your desire “to be a cardiologist” while still undecided about your ultimate goal. However if you have a specific person with whom you would like to meet based on your ultimate goals, I encourage you to notify the program so that an interview can be arranged.
Ryan: I do not think so. It is almost impossible for a resident to say that he or she wants to be an interventional cardiologist when the most advanced procedure they have done is a lumbar puncture. Similarly, it is only during fellowship that one begins to appreciate the daily life of a heart failure doctor or an echocardiologist. Of course, some applicants have been extensively trained in science or engineering or have already completed advanced training overseas. These more mature applicants might have a more definite idea about their career path. But in reality there is a benefit to being undifferentiated and then allowing your experience during fellowship to mold your career path, which is exactly what happened to me.
CardioExchange: The fellowship application cycle begins earlier this year by several months. Are fellowship programs prepared for this change, and are they ready to start reviewing applications in the next month?
de Lemos: Yes and no. We’ll all be figuring out timelines as we go, but the process of evaluation and interviews won’t change. It will be trickier to do all the application reviewing and interview scheduling over the summer during vacation times, but once interviews start, the change won’t be a big deal. I like the idea of the applicants being more mature with more “skins on the wall” when they apply.
Kates: Yes. We expect an outstanding pool of talented applicants. The challenge may be that there will be more applicants than in the last few years due to the change. We will see.
Ryan: I think that the programs are ready. Many people need to be reminded to review applications regardless of the time of year. In reality so much is going on later in the year, such as AHA Scientific Sessions and the holidays, that bringing everything forward a few months will actually alleviate some of the excess work load that commonly occurs towards the end of the year. The main issue for applicants is to be ready.