Fellowship 101: Perfecting Your Application–Volume 2

Fellowship 101: Perfecting Your Application–Volume 2

Guest Commentary

Aug 10, 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 2: Perfecting Your Application: Constructing an Impeccable Resume

Every year, thousands of residents compete for fellowship positions in various specialties. This process doesn’t start on the day of application, it starts the moment you determine your preference (as we talked about in Volume 1 of this series).
The Art of Mastering Your Fellowship Application. 
The minute you make your decision on which specialty to pursue, it is your time to shine! Your application is who you are and what you want to be. As you work on the application, it is important to focus critically on your resume. It should reflect your entire career, years of study, and endeavors in your field of interest. Assembling your resume is like building a perfect Lego model—everything needs to be structured precisely. A resume boosts your first impression and is essential in the interview.
A resume should convey all your thoughts, contents, and achievements in way that makes you stand out like an exquisite portrait in an art gallery.  

The Blocks Needed to Build an Ideal Fellowship Resume:

1. Personal Statement

This is the most important piece in the fellowship application. It is the part where you can express yourself and show the interviewers what kind of a doctor you are. Be sincere in conveying your achievements. Do not exaggerate. You just have to answer one main question: Why do you want to specialize in that specific field? This is important for interviews because you’ll be meeting with the program directors, faculty, and future fellows who are interested in learning more about you and how they can best support you when you are accepted.
2. Academic Performance
Test scores (including your United States Medical Licensing Examination steps), medical school grades, awards and certificates, and residency in-training exam scores are very important pieces to include on your resume.  Keep in mind that scoring is important for program directors to learn and anticipate your ability to pass the board exam, in addition to passing the boards in their field, which will reflect the fellowship program success. Don’t forget that academic performance will not necessarily hold you back from getting into the specialty you like, so don’t let this discourage you.
There are some exceptions where excelling in some parts of the application might aid in patching perceived imperfections in other aspects of the application. 
3. Scholarly Activity
Find a mentor who provides you with expert insight, supports you in exploring and understanding research options, helps you with your writing, and encourages you to learn from your mistakes. 
Publishing scholarly activities is very important to show sincere interest in your specialty of choice. Moreover, presenting abstracts at meetings will give you the insight and experience needed to engage and connect with other physicians in the field.
Whether it be abstracts, case reports, case series, retrospective or prospective research, systematic review, or meta-analysis, it is important to incorporate scholarly activity in your application. Additionally, presenting at regional or national conferences and writing for journals or other online publications are also types of scholarly activities that are included in the Electronic Residency Application Service® (ERAS®) application. 
4. Letters of Recommendation (LOR)—Program director letter and faculty letters
A letter from the director of your residency program is essential in the process of selecting and securing a position. During the application process, up to four LOR are accepted.  Consider uploading as much as possible, with no less than three letters, and at least two letters from the specialty that you are applying for, including one from the department head. It might sound basic but it is very important to reach out for LOR’s from supervisors who were directly involved in your clinical work, as well as supervisors and mentors who engaged directly in your scholarly activity. 
Keep in mind that it is necessary to ask for more LOR than is required to be prepared and uploaded in the ERAS® ahead of time. It normally takes a few to several days for the letters to be available for use after upload, and you want to be sure that you’re not short on letters when the application season starts.  
Exceeding expectations, interest in the field, teamwork, clinical knowledge, and quality patient care are all aspects that could potentially be reflected in your LOR and are highly valued during the fellowship selection process.
5. Teaching Opportunities
Teaching medical students will improve your resume (and could also be acknowledged in your letters of recommendation). Some programs might even recognize residents with impressive teaching capabilities through awards, which is very important to be mentioned in your resume to reflect academic performance.
6. Electives
If the program allows outside electives, you should use that opportunity to showcase your genuine interests and true potential in your resume. Make sure to note how your interests relate to the elective that you wish to take. In the last fellowship season, many residents couldn’t participate in outside electives as the COVID-19 pandemic halted the process. I strongly encourage you to take the opportunity if you’re able to.  
7. Things That Could Give Your Resume an Extra Boost
  • Become a chief resident either in your last year of residency or by doing an extra year after graduation.
  • Take part in clinical trials and scholarly activities whenever possible.
  • Participate for a year or two in a training program, for example: non-ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) accredited fellowships. 
8. Photograph
It is the final touch to your resume. Consider investing in a professional headshot—not a selife!

Search online, read articles, watch videos, and ask for advice from colleagues and friends who already went through this process. This will help you mentally prepare and give you an insight on the fellowship application process.

The fellowship application is a stressful process! The guidance and tips provided in this piece aim to convey knowledge through a strategic approach and help strengthen your fellowship application. This volume highlights important tips to promote residents' perception of the fellowship application process and guide trainees to prepare properly in order to be strong candidates for a successful match! 

There is no timeline or limits for your dreams! To be continued…

Dr. Findakly is currently a first-year hematology/oncology fellow at Louisiana State University (Shreveport) Program. Follow him on Twitter @dawood_findaklyDisclosure.


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