Fellowship 101: Molding Your Future–A Series

Fellowship 101: Molding Your Future–A Series

Guest Commentary

Jun 17, 2021

By Dawood Findakly, MD

This series aims at providing insights to help determine future medical careers and subspecialty selection. It utilizes concepts the writer learned through his career while going through this process, as well as insights and strategies to improve the chances for success.

Volume 1: Making the Choice.

Internal medicine residents across the U.S. regularly focus on their plans for the future. The first and most common question asked, whether during medical school clinical rotations, residency, or when deciding to pursue fellowship, is “What you want to be in the future?” This is not only asked by the person going through these paths, but also by colleagues, family members, supervisors, and even residents themselves, as it is one of the important elements that determines personal interest and provides inherent self-satisfaction and motivation. Careers and areas that need more attention through self-awareness and development require highly sustainable efforts. These endeavors, entwined with the training program efforts supporting them, and the availability of interested faculty in academic mentorship, are essential in paving the road to support residents to pursue their dream specialty.
Choosing your specialty: Discover the fellowship that best fits you.
Residents interested in applying for a fellowship in their specialty of choice face a unique set of challenges that were really maximized during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors that affected these endeavors are:
  1. The lack of available away electives
  2. Strict rules for outside rotations
  3. Reluctance to travel due to the fear of contracting the virus
What if not yet decided? 
If not decided yet, try to experience your specialty of choice. You could take electives to learn how you would feel if you chose that specialty to be your career. Start during residency. As you are able to get mentorship, you can learn about resources, as well as plenty of conditions, and write on rare diseases that would educate and help impact your thinking. This could present cornerstones for future studies and trials.
Sprint or a marathon? When is the right time to decide?
Take your time. This is a commitment and a life-changing decision. If making this choice doesn’t suit you at the moment, you may need to make it later in life. Some conclusions are easy to make—like a blink of an eye or a snap of your fingers—while others may take a while to put all considerations together to make up your mind. When you plan your future to move forward in your career and choose to pursue fellowship training, make sure it is what you want to do.

Always remember, love what you do and do what you love.

Winding Up Your Decision in the Midst of Choices
Picking your specialty: Find your “Big Why!” Find your push! 
Dear future fellow success story, when it comes to finding a dream career path, try to find your “Big Why,” and the importance of that to you. Look for your motive to persevere, and the inspiration for what you do to advance in your career. It’s all these things that matter most to achieve your dreams. The sky is the limit. You are capable of so much more than you think. 
A couple of things that need to be considered.  
  1. Fellowship match data: Study and understand the prior match cycle data in terms of competitiveness of the specialty, and see if your scores, credentials, scholarly activities, etc. are within range of the previously matched fellows.
  2. Look ahead: Anticipate lifestyle, salary, and satisfaction with the specialty.

Ask yourself the most important questions: “Do I see myself doing that?” “Is this what I want to do in the future?” “Will that be something that I want to do for the rest of my life?”

Confidence Thrives in Persistence.

There is still much to be done.
As years pass by, physicians will realize how important the need is to invest in personal achievement and focus on career plans. This type of perspective could be valuable to most of us as we grow, mature, evolve, and develop through sharing, connecting with others, and finding ways to cooperate and grow. 
Stay Focused and Define your Purpose.
It takes initiative when considering a fellowship. Every resident is learning how to be open to advice and as they seek perfection. This is done by connecting with people with more experience and discussing issues pertaining to the fellowship application. It is important to keep the motivation for a new prospective career by engaging in self-reflection, developing opportunities, and prioritizing goals. 
It is quite hard that you are in residency and have to cope with your training, duties, education, family, and other responsibilities that lay on your shoulders, but you deserve to pursue your dream fellowship.
The three musketeers: Skill, experience, and talent. 
Everyone has certain skills that add up as we go through different phases, whether in our personal or professional career, and these skills lead to experience. Talent, on the other hand, is innate. It is the ultimate potion that, when seasoned with experience, opens innumerable doors to ultimate and outstanding worthy career potential.
Those “three musketeers” are the driving motor for excellence and will make your resume stand out from the competition.
How to be a Competitive Candidate.  
Don't hesitate: Start working hard as soon as you decide on the specialty you see yourself in and stay focused.
Teamwork wins: By helping others, you help yourself. Outline your list of projects that you are working on. Keep track of them and monitor your progress. It is very helpful to engage in a research committee in your program, and to learn and collaborate with colleagues on projects that interest you. This will not only increase your productivity, but it could also showcase positive teamwork skills during your application process. 
Have a mentor who can be supportive and ready to teach you: Start with an abstract, or a case report, to learn the concept of writing, and then advance to a literature review, systematic review, and meta-analysis. This will lead up to doing retrospective and prospective research. These are all potential scholarly activities that would strengthen your application and reflect your passion for the field.
Scholarly activities: Try to invest in research and write about cases in your field of choice in order to reflect personal interest and determination in the specialty. Also make sure to participate in regional and national conferences and meetings.
Join a professional organization: Enroll in medical associations, societies, and organizations in the specialty of your field of interest, as they can be a platform to publish your work.
Boost your resume and have a backup plan: Consider an extra year of training, whether in a one-year fellowship program, or a chief resident year, to consolidate your resume and reflect on your leadership role and trust.
In this volume, we aim to provide an opportunity for colleagues to understand and develop in their career and help them make an informed decision to achieve their ultimate goal, whether in a medical practice, a certain medical specialty, or sub-specialty.
Follow your passion, and choose wisely! To be continued…
Dr. Findakly is currently an internal medicine resident at Creighton University School of Medicine (Phoenix) Program. He will be pursuing his hematology/oncology fellowship at Louisiana State University (Shreveport) Program. Follow him on Twitter @dawood_findakly. Disclosure.


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