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Fellowship Applications: Navigating the Process

Fellowship Applications: Navigating the Process


For Chris Kieliszak, DO, and other residents, the choice between applying for a fellowship or entering practice is one that takes a lot of consideration and planning. Fellowship is one to two years of additional training in Dr. Kieliszak’s subspecialty of facial plastic surgery. He chose a fellowship to become “best trained” in an area that is of most interest to him, board certified, and more marketable in terms of his future career path options. Dr. Kieliszak’s shares his path and some tips for others considering a fellowship below.

How far in advance of the deadline did you start working on your application package?

For a facial plastic surgery fellowship, the application process starts in your fourth year of residency. For me, the deadline was January, and I started working on my application as soon as the cycle opened in the early Fall. However, I was thinking about the process well before I started my actual application. I picked other people’s brain on all types of questions I had and started putting my thoughts together on writing my personal statement, who I would ask to write recommendations, and my application in general.

How did you create a successful application? Any tips on what to do and what not to do?

The first piece of advice I have is to be punctual with dates and deadlines. Be early and do your research into the program and the subspecialty you are applying to. Seek out advice from a current fellow or someone who has just completed fellowship training. For my program, there was no real resource for finding these individuals, so I kept track of names I had heard from other people and networking. I found that once you approached these individuals, they were open to talking to me and helping me navigate some of the steps to apply.

A successful application is going to include research in the subspecialty you are applying to. Hopefully throughout your residency you were able to do research as it shows you are committed to your academic interest. The other option is to build relationships with a mentor or participate in an observership that sparks your interest in that area.

How did you determine who to ask for letters of recommendation and how many did you submit?

The most important thing to consider is to choose someone who knows you and will write a good letter. Try to include someone prominent in the field with positive name recognition. I submitted four letters of recommendation. I asked each personally and made sure I gave each enough time, which I would recommend as two to three months in advance of the deadline and follow up with a reminder. I didn’t give them instructions, but it would be a good idea to consider doing that to make sure the letter is impactful. Also, if they are open to you reviewing the letter before it is submitted, that would be a good idea.

How did you approach writing your personal statement? What can you write about?

I don’t believe you can go wrong if your personal statement shows you are dedicated to the field. Think about a story you can share to convince the program director you want to be there, for example a case you worked on or a memorable experience you had. These essays are open ended and unstructured, so you have a lot of leeway on what you want to say. In my case, I had a family member review it, but it would also be beneficial to have someone in the profession read it and provide their thoughts.

How many programs did you apply to?

I applied to well over 10 programs. Before applying, I would research the program online. In my case, I reviewed the American Academy of Facial Plastics website. However, most of my research was tied into my in-person visits to each program during the interview.

What was the interview experience like for you? Any tips for residents to help them prepare?

The interview for me was a great opportunity to see if the program was a good fit. I was able to hear first-hand information on what the current fellow was doing in terms of independent surgeries, seeing patients, doing lasers, research, etc. I also gained a glimpse into quality of life, and the program’s strengths and criticisms. The interview was different than residency in that I was the only person for the whole day, and I didn’t feel the stress of comparing myself to other candidates.

The question you need to prepare for is why you want to go to their program and what other opportunities you are looking at and/or other programs. I prepared for this by doing some research, knowing the part of the country I wanted to relocate to, and talking to the existing fellow. I would encourage residents to schedule some practice sessions with colleagues, so their presentation goes smoothly. Another tip is to save up your vacation days and plan early and coordinate the time off you will need to travel. Try and space out the interviews so that travel makes sense. And, save your money as all the travel is out of your pocket and can add up quickly.

What piece(s) of advice can you offer to those thinking about applying to a fellowship program?

My key piece of advice is to demonstrate your interest in the subspecialty early. Dedicate your time to making yourself stand out. Do research in the field, make connections, network, go to meetings, and get your name out there. Try and set yourself apart on paper and gain experiences that you can communicate during the interview.

It is important to present your research. I would suggest you have four main goals to research. First, finish your manuscript. Then, get it published. Afterwards, have it presented at a national meeting. Look for local or national award programs, some of which are especially designed for residents where you can submit your research. Check out resident sections, which often have awards, and look through journal guidelines for resident categories and submission guidelines.

Finally, know what you are stepping into. For me, there have not been any real surprises in my fellowship. I most enjoy my interactions with faculty members who are great to learn from. What’s most challenging to me is not yet being fully autonomous. Fellowship training is a different stress level. These days I am worrying more about my board exams, but on the flip side, I have more personal time, which after residency is very welcome.

About Christopher Kieliszak
Christopher Kieliszak, DO, is a current fellow-in-training in facial plastic surgery at the Mittelman Plastic Surgery Center after finishing his residency at Doctors Hospital/OUCOM Osteopathic and medical school at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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