If you’re about to apply for fellowship, this one’s for you. If you’re going to apply in the future, pay attention. If fellowship’s not in your plans, listen anyway- just switch some words (“job” for “fellowship,” “boss” for “fellowship director”). Here are eight of the most common questions I get asked about fellowship applications.
Q1: When should I ask for letters?
A1: Now, if you haven’t already. Give letter writers at least a month to post them.
Q2: How many letters should I get?
A2: Check fellowship websites for instructions, but it’s usually four: one from me (the Program Director letter), at least two from specialists in your field, and a fourth of your choice (ideally also in the field, but it can also come from someone who knows you well, like a research mentor). Choose letter writers who complement each other. As a group, they should address your clinical abilities, interpersonal skills, and academic potential. Don’t choose letter writers solely for their name. The best letters come from faculty who know you well enough to supply details.
Q3: What do letter writers need from me?
A3: Give them copies of your CV and personal statement- even if in draft form. Meet with them to discuss your plans. Given them an ERAS token now and ask them to post letters by late June so your application is complete with time to spare. Please provide me with “talking points” for your PD letter so I can highlight your most important accomplishments. For more information on PD letters, see: https://medicine.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=15117.
Q4: Where should I apply?
A4: Fellowships vary more than residencies. Some offer clinician educator pathways while others don’t. Some focus on basic science research while others study big data. Some divisions or sections have a handful of faculty members while others boast over a hundred. Some offer specific training opportunities that aren’t available everywhere (like interventional pulmonology), and some will expose you to special programs and populations that are less common elsewhere (IBD, TB). Some emphasize some clinical domains over others (“lumenal” GI vs. hepatology). Think about your own career trajectory as you choose programs. If you’re headed for a research career, seek programs offering protected time, funding pathways, and advanced degrees. If you’re headed for a clinically-oriented career, look at populations served and opportunities to learn special skills (e.g., advanced endoscopy). Discuss programs with Yale faculty: they’re happy to advise you. Finally, don’t forget family and geography- there are generally great programs across the United States.
Q5: How competitive is my application?
A5: Yale applicants are competitive to start with and most programs will try hard to recruit you. Individually, there are several factors to consider. Cardiology and GI are more competitive than other fields because the number of applicants greatly exceeds the positions available. In contrast, there are plenty of spots available in Nephrology, Geriatrics, and ID. Your competitiveness at individual programs depends on the size of the fellowship, the number of internal candidates applying, and your fit (i.e., basic science oriented programs want basic scientists). The most competitive applications showcase exceptional clinical performance, scholarship (research participation, publications, and presentations), additional accomplishments (curriculum development, QI activities), and citizenship (committee membership, extracurricular activities, service, leadership). The number of programs you should apply to depends on the specialty’s competitiveness, whether or not you’re couples matching, and whether or not you’re geographically restricted. Many of you will get more interview invitations than you can accept. Please remember to let programs know immediately if you decide to decline so someone else can take the spot.
Q6: What about that personal statement?
A6: By now, the rest of your application is set - you’ve built your clinical reputation, you’ve presented your research, you’ve served on committees- it is what it is. Now go and write the most compelling personal statement you can. To paraphrase JFK, “ask not what the fellowship can do for you; ask you can do for the fellowship.” Why should a program choose you out of a crowd of talented applicants? What makes you special? How will you contribute to the fellowship and the field? What will you be doing in 10 years? Your personal statement is your closing argument. Send me your drafts for editing and suggestions. For a more detailed discussion, see my PD notes from last year, which addressed this topic: (https://medicine.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=15006).
Q7: How important are deadlines?
A7: Hmm, tough question... But really, deadlines are key. Post all your materials to ERAS with time to spare. Many fellowship directors send out all their interview invitations as soon as complete applications are posted for review. If you miss deadlines, you may miss out on interview slots.
Q8: Anything else?
A8: Just remember you have a lot to offer. You’re an accomplished group and you’re applying from a respected residency. I’ll be writing strong letters for each of you and I know we’ll have another fantastic year. Make an appointment to see me if you’d like to chat.
Good luck and welcome to summer,