Acing the real test: Your interview into fellowship

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Physicians who are gearing up for fellowship interviews can prepare by updating their CV, researching the ins and outs of the program and the interviewers, and compiling a list of questions to ask during the interview.

  • During the interview, highlight your accomplishments and ask questions that clarify whether the fellowship is compatible with your value system. Dress professionally, and be yourself.

  • At the end of your fellowship interview, show your interviewers gratitude: Thank them for their time and follow up shortly after with a thank-you note.

Congratulations! You applied to a fellowship program, and your application was strong enough to earn you an interview. After your initial celebration, you may wonder, “What do I do now?”

We’ve compiled a wealth of tips and tricks to help give you the greatest chance of success, including advice for how to prepare, and insight into "day-of" logistics for your interview into fellowship. 

Preparation is key

First things first: Do your homework.

Related: Get a head start: Breaking down the fellowship application process

According to an article published by NEJM Resident 360, it’s common for fellowship programs to provide with applicants with an interview schedule prior to the big day.[]

Once you receive the schedule and identify your interviewers, do a bit of research. Get to know their interests and familiarize yourself with their published work. This will help you prepare a few relevant talking points.

Additionally, it’s helpful to try to organize an interview with someone who might help you in a more meaningful way down the line, the authors advise.

"If you know the program has a faculty member that might make a good mentor, make sure to contact the program well ahead of time to see if they can schedule an interview with that person."

Authors, NEJM Resident 360

In addition to knowing some background about your interviewers, it’s crucial that you are familiar with the specifics of the program you hope to enter, well in advance of the interview, according to Aditya A. Joshi, MD, in an article published by the American College of Cardiology.[] This way, you show up looking and feeling prepared to chat about the program’s strengths, shortcomings, and any questions you may have.

Finally, take a long look at your CV—and be prepared to talk about it.

It’s important that you’re able to provide articulate explanations for each of your professional experiences—offering both positives and negatives.

"From personal experience, fellowship programs admire honesty and clarity of thought much more over perfection."

Aditya A. Joshi, MD, writing for the American College of Cardiology

How to nail the interview, virtually

You’ve done your research, you know who you’re speaking with, and you’re ready to chat about your professional experience. The big day is finally here. Some of you will have an in-person interview, but many won't even need to leave the house because the interview will be over a video communications platform like Zoom. Either way, be prepared so you can put your best foot forward.

According to an article from ASCO Connection written by Dawood Findakly, MD, it’s important that physicians who are interviewing virtually prepare their interview space.[]

Ideally, you will curate a background that communicates who you are without being too distracting. It’s also obvious, but exceedingly important, to be timely. Avoid tardiness when joining the interview, and be sure you have a solid internet connection. Having a back-up plan to account for any technological mishaps couldn’t hurt.

It’s also important that you dress professionally, according to Dr. Findakly.

"[Dressing professionally] will give you the inner sense of formality during the virtual interview and will help you get in the right headspace."

Dawood Findakly, MD, writing for ASCO Connection

In addition to professional accomplishments, make mention of volunteer work you’ve done, or any published papers you’ve contributed to—especially if you completed these after you submitted your application.

And remember, that although you are the interviewee, you’re also interviewing them.

“Fellowship interviews are a bidirectional process, so make sure the program values align with your values,” Dr. Joshi wrote. “Ensure to ask about how the program will help you with your career, your role within the unit and clarify any uncertainty.”

Related: Choosing your fellowship: How do you find the right fit?

Lastly, despite the cliche, it’s important to just be yourself.

Although it may be difficult, try to relax, knowing you did all that you could to prepare. You were selected to interview for a reason. Now is the time to own it.

Gratitude goes a long way

After your interview, make sure to follow up with a thank-you note. According to the NEJM Resident 360 article, physicians can send a post-interview email or letter to their interviewers expressing their gratitude and ongoing interest in the fellowship.

If you decide to send a note of this kind, make sure to steer clear of a generic thank-you.

Instead, give specific reasons why you’re interested in the program. This is also an excellent opportunity to provide—briefly—details about yourself that you weren’t able to share in the interview itself. Be aware that your note may not receive a response, at least not immediately.

Regardless, if your feelings are genuine, there’s certainly no harm in expressing them with a follow-up thank you.

What this means for you

Acing a fellowship interview requires that you prepare beforehand by doing your homework. Being well-informed when it comes to the program and the person interviewing you will ideally show you are interested, competent, and responsible. On the big day, make sure to look your best, be respectful to your interviewer, and make sure to highlight your achievements up to this point. Finally, extend your gratitude for being selected to interview by taking the time to compose a thank-you note.

Read Next: The art of receiving feedback as a fellow
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