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What is Fellowship Training for Doctors?

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It takes many years and jumping through countless hoops for a person to qualify as a doctor or specialist. At the end of their residency, many doctors will graduate and start their careers as a physician. But, for those who wish to specialize in a particular field like surgery or obstetrics, a fellowship program is the next step required to reach their goal. But what is a fellowship program, and how does one apply for a fellowship position in a fellowship program?

What is Fellowship Training?

Fellowship training is a specialized training program for medical students to work towards their specialty while supervised by a qualified specialist in their field of interest. In simpler terms, a fellowship is a job shadowing program that is the last step for those doctors who want to specialize in a particular field or branch of medicine.

Fellowship opportunities and programs are a great way for doctors to gain beneficial hands-on experience in their field of interest while gaining invaluable experience and incredible skills from a top specialist.

How Long Does a Fellowship Program take?

The length of a fellowship training program depends on the specialty you would like to focus on. A typical medical degree requires the following steps to be followed:

  • A 4-year undergraduate degree
  • 4 years of medical school
  • A 5-year residency program

Specialty fields require different fellowship programs, which could be as little as one year, or as many as seven. Here are a few examples of the number of years of fellowship training you can expect in popular specialties:

  • Emergency Medicine = 3 to 4 years
  • General Surgery = 5 years
  • Neurosurgery = 7 years
  • Obstetrics = 4 years
  • Psychiatry = 4 years
  • Transitional = 1 year

Interpersonal Skills Needed

Apart from many hours of clinical and surgical experience, you need to display a range of interpersonal skills to apply successfully and join a fellowship program. These include motivation, interpersonal communication, writing, and outstanding leadership skills.

Research fellowships are reserved for those who display the best skills as a doctor in their training and how they deal with patients. Patient care is an important skill that medical residencies teach future doctors.

Not all candidates who apply for a fellowship will be granted a place in the program. These spots are limited and are based on availability. According to the American Medical Association, there were only 11,767 positions available in 5110 specialty programs for 2012. The programs were spread across 68 specialties. While this may seem like a fair amount of fellowship possibilities, it is not when you consider there were more than 100,000 residents.

Obtaining a place in a fellowship is a privilege, and only those who have put all their efforts into their studies, training, and residency will have a chance opportunity to work in a fellowship program under a specialist in their field of interest.

Group of medical team discussing the ways of treatment at table during meeting

Requirements for Fellowship

Applying for a fellowship is not as easy as completing an online form and hoping that you are chosen. There are a wide number of documents you need to attach to your application form. Let’s take a look at these documents in more detail.

Fellowship Application

The first and possibly most important step in applying for a fellowship program is to complete a fellowship application.

Personal Statement

This might seem like a perfect opportunity to explain your hobbies and interests, but the truth is that this does not need to be included in your statement. Here’s what should be:

  • Your educational objectives
  • Why you are the best candidate
  • Your interests in a specific field of medicine
  • Why you have chosen this program

Medical Curriculum Vitae

This is much like a resume or CV that you would submit when applying for a job and is an overall summary of your medical career. Most medical students start on their medical CV around the middle of their residency, as these are the years that matter the most and are when you put into practice the skills you have learned in medical school. A few other items or points you might consider adding to your medical CV are:

  • Any and all work experience
  • Volunteering
  • Awards you might have received
  • Schooling (medical school)
  • Articles published or those the candidate has been mentioned in

A great medical CV can increase the chances of being granted a coveted spot in a fellowship program. The more impressive you are on paper, the greater the chances.

Recommendation letters

This is not the time for family and friends to write glowing recommendations on why they think a candidate should be granted a fellowship. Letters of recommendation should only be written by those directly involved in a candidate’s residency and, ideally, a doctor who directly oversees the candidate.

Recommendation letters should be as recent as possible and based on performance rather than bias. Letters by an attending, chief of department, and any other doctor who oversaw the candidate in their service are welcomed and recommended as great documents to attach to an application.

Application Forms

All application forms are processed via the Electronic Residency Application Service, or ERAS. These can be accessed through the relevant fellowship program’s website or by visiting the program’s location. Information regarding the program and the requirements for the application are available at the same locations.

Application fees are applicable and are around $690. It is important to note that application costs vary according to the volume of applicants vying for a spot in a fellowship program.


All applicants or candidates will need to take part in an interview process. For many, this is their time to shine as they dazzle the interviewers with their charm, sophistication, and confidence. Interviews usually last between 30 minutes to an hour. A few possible questions that candidates will need to answer include:

  • A revision of the experience listed in the medical CV
  • Problem-solving techniques
  • The process of diagnosing and treating a patient
  • Examples of cases where the candidate was proactive and took the initiative in treating a patient

The interview is often the best way for candidates to present themselves to the interviewer panel. They should be motivated and confident while leaning on their experience to convince the interviewers that they are truly worthy of a fellowship program.

Top Tips When Applying for a Fellowship Program

There are a few clever ways that candidates can get a step ahead of others when applying for a place in a fellowship program. One of the only to do this is to customize the application. It is always a good idea to research the program and the specialists who will oversee the fellows. Find out as much information on these as possible before attempting to complete an application.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Write for the correct audience. Use formal language, be direct, and highlight the hard work and dedication to training and residency.
  • Be clear about the intention to be a part of the fellowship program.
  • Show commitment and drive. Include as much information and examples of experience as possible.
  • Ensure that all information is true and correct and can be backed up with facts and substantiating documents.


A fellowship training program requires enormous hard work and dedication, but the rewards are worth it. Taking part in a fellowship program is the only way that a doctor can specialize in a particular field, trading their commitment for important and often invaluable skills.

It is no secret that specialists earn a better salary too, and while money should never trump passion and the dedication to helping others, money doesn’t hurt. So why not work hard and reap the rewards of a fellowship training program.

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