The A to Zs of publishing as a medical fellow

By Carol Nathan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Publishing scholarly articles is a requirement for many medical specialties, and is a defining feature of academic and research branches of medicine.

  • Publishing during fellowship provides insights on how medical research is conducted and how medical literature is developed. It can also enhance your career prospects. 

  • Fellows should research the publishing requirements of their own specialties, and enlist the help of their mentors/advisors to jumpstart a publication plan.  

Depending on your chosen medical specialty, there's a good chance you'll be dipping your toes into the publishing world—if not fully diving in. For careers in academic and research branches, you can expect publishing scholarly articles to be a big part of your work life. And even where it is not a requirement, it's often strongly advised.

Publishing scholarly work during fellowship offers a window into how medical research is conducted and how medical literature is developed. It will also better prepare you for career requirements once you have finished your medical training.  

Who is required to publish?

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredits and provides oversight to ensure that fellowship and residency programs are properly preparing physicians to deliver safe and high quality care. With that goal in mind, the ACGME includes publishing requirements in many of its programs. (Note: The ACGME does not accredit medical schools, it only accredits participating GME programs and the institutions that sponsor them.)[]

The ACGME standards are established by specialty, so make sure you are informed about yours. The ACGME rules are outlined in their document, Specialty-Specific Program Requirements: Resident/Fellow Scholarly Activity, that went into effect July 1, 2022.

To get an idea of the types of requirements you might face in a given specialty, check out the pediatric specialty at the University of Virginia, which requires scholarly publication for fellows, including: an in-depth manuscript, participation in a peer-reviewed publication, a thesis or dissertation, an extramural grant application, a meta-analysis, a systematic review, a critical analysis of relevant public policy, and more. 

Related: Didactic training v clinical training—how each serves the medical fellow

Expert insight on publishing as a fellow

According to Mohammad Kassem, MD, a neurologist practicing in Ohio and member of the MDLinx advisory board, “Publishing allows trainees to understand how they want to proceed with their career after training, ie, clinical vs academic focused. Being able to get involved with research and getting your name on manuscripts gets you name recognition within your specialty and the greater medical field."

"Publishing will help trainees beyond fellowship and allow them to begin paving the road to being a 'specialist' in a specific field, which is an excellent trait when employers look to hire."

Mohammad Kassem, MD

A case study or literature review can position you as an expert on a particular clinical issue. Dr. Kassem explains, “While most fellows will not be able to start and finish a randomized-control trial, as most fellowships are 1 to 3 years, there are many things a trainee can get involved in: case reports, original research, abstracts, peer reviewing, participating in an RCT (or starting), medical writing, etc."

Related: Do you have what it takes for a career in academic medicine?

 Where to begin? 

You'll want to start by researching the requirements of your specific specialty. When putting together your publication plan, consider the following tasks suggested by authors of an article published in ACG Case Reports Journal[]

  • Identify a specific topic 

  • Form a team with others to participate with you in the project

  • Delegate responsibilities to team members

  • Create a timeline 

  • Discuss how authorship will be stated 

  • Identify which journal(s) you will be submitting to and make sure you know their submission guidelines

  • Create a draft manuscript

  • Consider formatting, editing, style, etc

Tap your mentors for help

Enlisting the help of a mentor or advisor can really help jumpstart your publication plan.

“Having a strong and supportive mentor can make the difference between a good and great clinician," said Dr. Kassem. "Oftentimes I find having multiple mentors to be advantageous, as one may be strong in one area such as publishing/research and the other more fine-tuned for strategic career planning.”

Related: I’m an educational multiplier, and it has benefits all around

Advisors and program directors can be invaluable resources since they are usually publishing something and would welcome the involvement of their fellows or residents.

Anita Chandrasekaran, MD, a rheumatologist and MDLinx advisory board member, adds, “Older fellows are a great resource in choosing the right mentor."

"I would also recommend prioritizing the quality of publications over quantity, as there is limited time during training to publish. "

Anita Chandrasekaran, MD

What and where to publish

Some journals have sections devoted to physicians in training, such as Neurology[], which points out that a good choice for fellows would be case presentations about topics such as “uncommon presentations of common neurological disorders and typical presentations of more exotic disorders.”

Related: How to stay up-to-date with medical literature—for free

In a news brief, the AMA offers publishing advice for fellows, writing, “Getting published as a physician in training can build your CV and reputation in the profession, but knowing where to submit your research is half the battle of breaking into medical publishing.”[] The AMA also has further advice on how to get your research published, in an article titled, 9 top tips for getting published in a medical journal.[]

It is important to always research publication guidelines before submitting to any journal. The AMA’s article on “Where to publish” lists several journals that specifically seek submissions from physicians in training. These include: 

Consider a journal club for fellows  

A good jumpstart for your publishing plans could be joining or launching a journal club.

A journal club is a regular meeting where fellows and other colleagues can discuss recently published medical literature, and it may be a good way to explore aspects of publishing for you to consider.

An article in Stroke describes how journal clubs function and how they can be set up, specifically for fellows and residents.[] The main objectives are “improvement of critique skills, keeping up-to-date with the recently published literature, translating forefront knowledge to guide clinical practice, and maintaining reading habits.”  

What this means for you 

Publishing is a requirement for many specialties, and is at least strongly advised for others. Fellows should learn the requirements of their specific specialty, and work with a mentor and advisor to develop a publishing plan. Even if your specialty does not require publication, learning how medical literature is developed can be a rewarding and career-boosting experience. 

Related: Tune in: Top podcasts for medical fellows

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