The second consideration involves surgical and clinical training opportunities. What kinds of cases are seen, and what cutting-edge surgeries are being performed? Is this a regional or national referral center? What is the patient volume?
Explore this issue:January 2012
The third consideration is the institution’s available resources. What are the academic credentials and opportunities for research collaborations? Is the institution well-endowed; does it have state-of-the-art equipment? “Ask where do you see yourself in five years; where do you want to be in 20?” Dr. Lal said.
Informal interviews with people in the field are another way to help answer those questions, Dr. Lal added. “Go to meetings to see who is giving presentations and what they are talking about, talk to other fellows and recent graduates, go over journal articles and see who is publishing what. There isn’t one single resource that’s best, but if you only go online, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
The Numbers Game
There’s no single number of fellowships residents should apply to, mostly because competition for available spots varies greatly among specialties. In rhinology, for instance, the 30 or so spots available are usually comparable to the number of applicants, while in head and neck oncology and laryngology, there are generally more spots available than potential fellows. Competition for facial plastics fellowships, on the other hand, is much steeper.
“All of us have perhaps three top choices in the fellowship matching system, but if you are going for a very competitive fellowship, you need to apply widely,” Dr. Lal said. Residents should also look at their own credentials when determining how many programs to go for. “Look at the strength of your own application,” she added. “If you are a very strong candidate, you will probably be fortunate enough to choose where you want to go. If your experience is comparable to other people going through the process, then you need to apply more broadly.”
If you find that you didn’t match with any of your desired programs, it’s important to meet with an advisor and determine why you weren’t selected, Dr. Damrose said. Reasons could include limiting yourself geographically or applying to too few programs. You could also have made yourself a less competitive candidate through poor interviewing skills, lackluster letters of support or a CV too light on publications.
Residents should also talk to their advisors to determine whether fellowship training makes economic sense. “In most cases it does,” Dr. Damrose said. “But some applicants may feel economic pressures to start practice immediately, especially residents with student loans or with young families.” It can be a tough question to answer, Dr. Damrose added, but taking advantage of an opportunity early in one’s training may be easier than trying to do so after becoming established.