Preparing to Apply for Medical Fellowships

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • It probably feels like you just finished applying to residency, and you were hoping never to open ERAS again. But now fellowship applications are creeping up. Amidst the hectic life of residency, it can be hard to plan ahead for fellowship applications. But you will be glad that you started early when May/June rolls around. As we are about to enter April, here are some of the main steps you should start taking to prepare for the application cycle this summer.

    • Decide on a fellowship path if you are still on the fence. 

    If you are still debating between two fellowships (or if you want to do one at all), take this time to really explore your future career options. Try to schedule elective time in a given subspecialty. Take current fellows out for coffee and ask them about their lives, research interests, and career goals. Talk with mentors in your residency (program director, research mentor, current senior residents going into the field, etc). If you are going to apply to a fellowship this year, it is best to have firmly decided by mid-Spring.

    • Review your application and assess if there are any weak areas that you can work on. 

    Update your CV with any recent research, leadership positions, volunteer work, or committees that you have been involved with during residency. Consider where you might be able to improve your application before the end of the summer. If you haven’t done any research in your field, consider looking for a project in the next few months. It doesn’t have to be completed by the time you apply in order for you to list it on your application. You can also research any upcoming conferences in your field. Many of them allow residents to submit posters with case reports, which can be less time consuming than many research projects.

    • Start brainstorming letter writers. 

    Think about who your potential letter writers could be. The number of letters will depend on your specialty, but it is often 3 letters + your program director. The letters can (and often should) be a mix of clinical and research letters. Think about attendings you have worked with in the hospital clinically or on research projects. Depending on the specialty, your letters may need to all come from the subspecialty you are applying in (i.e., cardiology) or you can use a letter from another subspecialty if that person knows you well and can write a strong letter (i.e., infectious disease). In the coming months, you can start asking letter writers to give them plenty of time to work on it. You can also ask for more than you need to give you some choices when it comes down to application time. Make sure to have your CV ready to send them when you ask for the letter.

    • Talk with mentors in your given field about your application and potential programs. 

    If you start early, the attendings in your chosen subspecialty will not be already inundated with requests for meetings (particularly the program director if your hospital has a fellowship program). Ask them to review your application and give any suggestions. They can also give you a sense of how many and which programs would be a good fit for you. It also doesn’t hurt to stay on their radar if you are interested in staying at the same hospital.

    • Stay up to date on the important deadlines for the Match. 

    ERAS and NRMP have not posted the full 2023 timeline yet. But you can follow them both on twitter or monitor their websites to keep up with when everything is due.

    If you have any questions about the fellowship application process, please reach out to us to review your application and brainstorm how to put your best foot forward. 

    About the Author