How to match into a fellowship

Residency training is an opportunity to get a good feeling of the specialty that interested you when thinking about what to pursue in the future. You may think that after applying for premed college, medical school and residency, applying for fellowship would be a piece of cake for you. Let me tell you: applying for fellowship is probably the hardest one among all other applications you went through so far. We are talking about applying for a specialty that you’re going to practice for rest of your lives. Here are some tips and advice that I learned during my application for sports medicine fellowship.

Make up your mind

I knew that I was going to apply for a sports medicine fellowship before starting residency. This helped me to focus my applications for residency programs that also have sports medicine fellowship. If you’re not sure about the specialty you want to pursue in the future, make up your mind and decide no later than the end of your first year of residency. This would help you to focus during residency in the specialty you’re going to apply and will help you build up your application.

Build your application

Now that you have made your mind about the pathway you’re going to pursue in the future, it’s time to start working on it. Get to know people from the field you chose to apply, not only within the institution you’re training but also outside. Becoming member of medical associations in the field of your interest; attending their annual meetings is good way to network and get in touch with professionals from your field. Do some research on publications in your field of interest. Show some consistent interest in that particular field. Fellowship program directors want to see your commitment and persistence on your applications when considering you for an interview. Also, they like candidates with experience and leadership skills, consider applying for chief resident during the residency that would open doors in the process of application for fellowship.

Obtain great letters of recommendations

Make sure to obtain letters from professionals that know you well and worked with you during residency. Letters of recommendation (LOR) written by attendings of the specialty you’re applying for have greater value. Talk and explain to the recommenders why you’re applying for this opportunity, explain your objectives and goals. Make sure each of your letters can attest to your previous work, your successes and you as a great personality. Having excellent LORs is essential for success in fellowship application.

Search for programs that fit you

First, you have to decide about geography, where do you want to apply East Coast, West Coast or everywhere. Once you have the geography figured out, focus and search for programs in the region of your interest. You can search under specialty medical associations for the list of all fellowship programs or by asking colleagues and mentors about programs they recommend. Come up with the list of the program you want to apply to, including the home program if they have the fellowship program you want. Go to the website for every program you listed and get more detailed information and requirement. Read them thoroughly and make sure you meet their requirements before applying to that program.

Apply on time

If you decided to go for fellowship, the best time to apply is during the last year of residency. If for some reason you decided to take a break between residency and fellowship, make sure there is not a big gap preferably less than two years. Register on ERAS at least a month before the application date. This would allow you enough time to build your ERAS application, and allow you to add, update, correct, review your application on a daily basis until your it is good enough to be competitive to other applicants.

Rock the interview

The interview is the only chance to impress programs in person after you’ve caught their interest on paper. Therefore, it is very important to prepare for every interview. You most likely did some research about programs before you’ve applied. Now is time for more detailed research. This would show enthusiasm and interest on your part. Search for information about program, faculty, region. Programs like to ask the question: “What do you like about our program?” It is good idea to practice answering some common questions and prepare to ask them questions. Make sure you review your application material before going to interview just to remind yourself what did you say in your personal statement and what did you put in your application. Make travel plans so you can get there on time, relaxed, smiley and ready to rock. Make sure you follow with thank you email to the interviewers. And if you liked the program, try to keep on touch with them. Show them that you’re interested.

Ranking and matching

Things to put in consideration when building the rank list: quality of the program, importance of teaching, research opportunities, location, salary and benefits and the happiness of current fellows. It is important to ask yourself if you like the people there, do you see yourself working with those people, does the program meets your expectations and prepare you for what you’re planning to do in the future?

After you’ve successfully matched, hopefully to one of your top choices, get in touch with the coordinator of the program to start the process of licensing and credentialing on time so you will avoid any unexpected delay on starting the fellowship.

Faton Bytyci is a sports medicine fellow.

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