A Guide to Matching Into A Competitive Fellowship

You can never forget Match Day. It’s very stressful, nerve-wrecking, and changes your life. And it feels like nobody gets it unless they have been through it.

Once it’s over, though, it’s VERY relieving.

And as if going through one Match per lifetime wasn’t enough, you hear your DrSpouse say to you:

“I’m thinking about doing more training….”

OKOKOK, pause right there.

So, this means you won’t have just residency match, but a fellowship match in your future, too!

If this is where your medical journey is, don’t worry, you got this!

First Thing’s First

You gotta know before reading on is this:


It’s a common mistake to treat them as the same. But you have two different games and two different strategies to play.

Allow me to explain.

Matching For Residency

When you were matching for residency, these were super important:

  • Where they went for med school
  • Med school grades
  • USMLE board scores (i.e. Step 1, 2, 3)

If your DrSpouse is still in medical school, rank residency programs high that have these:

  • University program
  • an in-house fellowship program
  • Offers an extra year as chief resident
  • Fairly large number of seats (at least 2+ is 👍🏻)

Matching For Fellowship

After residency is completed, then they can get into the good stuff they really wanted to do. Unlike the Residency Match, though, grades are wholly ignored and where they went for med school becomes less important. Bboard scores are still important, but they are mostly used for cutoff.

Instead, other factors became more important:

  • Where they trained for residency
  • Quality of their research
  • Who they know (or better yet, who knows them!)

7 Ways To Be A Stellar Fellowship Candidate

1. Do Strong Research

This is first because it is, by far, the most important thing they can do.

Quality prevails over quantity:

  • Big journals > Small journals
  • 1st author > 2nd or 3rd author
  • Full article > case review

To find high quality research, reach out and ask if anybody is working on something and offer to be helpful. Find projects that other graduating students or residents have left off. Be a fighter about it — and it will come.

2. Become a Chief Resident

Fellowship programs with 2+ spots usually reserve one spot at their program for somebody in-house. The chief typically gets dibs on that spot. You want that to be you.

3. Do a Visiting Rotation

A visiting rotation is a few weeks long and it’s where they get exposure in the subspecialty they are interested in outside their home program. To get one, they typically would email Program Coordinators. The hope is that they get a stellar letter of recommendation from their rotation. The other hope is that it increases their chances of getting an interview at that place.

While at the visiting rotation, they have to be a rockstar. Arrive early and leave late. Seriously do everything you can to. If their mentor asks them to wash their car, do it! 😂

Beware: It also works both ways. If they coast through, they could get a bad reputation outside their home program.

4. Write an impeccable CV

If their CV is not in the right academic format, they will look amateur. Use the ones from prestigious training hospitals as guides. You can Google them.

Beware: Don’t rely on what their med school taught them about CVs because they don’t prepare them how to add new experiences acquired during residency. The wrong thing, as most do, is to jam them in somewhere.

5. Have Their Program Director Go To Bat For Them

A Program Director is so important in this process. Have them ask their Program Director (PD) where they trained and where they know people. Then, apply to where their PD trained and where their PD’s closest colleagues are. That’s where their PD will have the most clout.

After that, have their PD call for them, praising them as if they can walk on water.

If their PD is known, well-regarded, and trusted, this could be the phone call that changes everything.

6. Apply Broadly And Smartly

If your pockets are bottomless, apply to all the programs. But if you are under a budget like most people, you have to apply smartly yet also broadly.

Here are some guidelines on where their chances are best:

  1. Fellowship at the same place as residency (if it exists)
  2. Where their PD has connections
  3. The geographical places near you
  4. If they are an IMG (international medical graduate) candidate with visa issues, community and rural programs or programs with alumni who are IMG

In short, apply to as many as you can afford but also be wise about it.

7. Write A Story-Telling Personal Statement

All statements are going to be perfect in spelling and grammar. After all, they’re written by doctors who excel at details. The issue is they ALL say, “I really enjoyed my rotation in that subspecialty and that’s when I found out I want to sub-specialize in it.”

Zzzzzzzzz… 😴

Instead, be a storyteller and hold the reader’s attention on every word to the end. Now, that’s a specialized skill and a stellar personal statement.

Have a writer experienced in areas like advertising, non-fiction, or copywriting review their statement for them.

Let’s Review

  1. Do quality research
  2. Become chief resident
  3. Do a visiting rotation
  4. Write an impeccable CV
  5. Have their Program Director and mentors go to bat for them
  6. Apply broadly and smartly
  7. Write a story-telling statement

In Summary

If your DrSpouse knows what fellowship programs are looking for, they can focus on them to increase their chances of matching.

Best of luck to you and your DrSpouse on the journey to subspecializing!

I’m hugging and supporting you, friend ❤️

To your strong medical family,





Your Turn

Did I miss anything else that helped your DrSpouse match into fellowship?