How to Apply for Neonatology Fellowships

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Photo credit: Army Medicine)

I thought I would share my experience applying for neonatology fellowships. The process is generally more independent than its residency counterpart: there are now a handful of applicants (like 2-3, or in my case, one) instead of the 30+ who applied in Pediatrics from my medical school.

If you know a faculty member who recently went through the match (a key factor – two of my mentors obtained positions outside of the match before it was formally adopted by my program), then by all means use them! Residency and fellowship applications/interviews are similar and some of the same approaches worked, but it is definitely a different game.

Submit on time

Last year, ERAS opened December 1 and I was advised to have the application in by the end of January – I actually submitted on February 15 and ended up doing fine, but there was 1 program that I couldn’t interview at because of dates. The 16 others that I did were clearly not a problem ^_^

Obtain strong letters

As with the residency application, you should balance (a) seniority and (b) personality – aim to have letters from senior faculty who know you (easier said than done). Some programs also require a residency Program Director letter, and some encourage a letter from a PICU attending. This year (and probably next year too), the NICU uses its own letter of recommendation form, so you should give your letter writers (a) the LoR cover letter, (b) the NICU-specific form, (c) your CV and personal statement, and (d) plenty of time!

Write a killer personal statement!

I semi-followed the advice outlined in “the anatomy of a fellowship personal statement” PDF I found online… not authoritative, but there’s not much out there to help fellowship applicants. You may be able to use parts of your residency statement, but I essentially had to start over and that’s probably a good idea since you’re applying for a completely different kind of program now.

Include any and all “scholarly activities”

Since residents typically don’t do much serious research, *any* that you’ve done should be included – fellowship is an academic pursuit and 2/3 of the time is spent doing research or other scholarly activities, so there’s a big emphasis on what you’ve done and what you plan to do (more on that later). I included the bench research I did as an undergrad and the “scholarly activity” projects as a resident (quality improvement, systems-based projects, journal club, presentations) and personally interesting activities (eg, a medical student exchange program to Spain between 1st-2nd years of med school).

Be interesting!

Generally, I didn’t find the NICU interviewers to be too intense so it’s also useful to put your interests down (I included piano, Japanese, and science-fiction but didn’t add scotch)… quite a few of the interviews started with something like “that’s so interesting that you’re studying Japanese, tell me about that!” before settling into the standard “where do you see yourself in 5 years” questions.

Apply to a reasonable number of programs

As far as applying goes, I tried to limit myself to general geographic area (eg, the Northeast) and/or programs that I heard were good or was interested in (eg, Denver and Iowa). My personal philosophy is to apply through ERAS to more than you think but to not apply to places that, realistically, you’re probably not going to interview at (eg, Baylor for me even though it’s a great program) since you’ll be taking an interview spot away from another candidate who may actually want to go there.

Interview with a smile!

The interview season goes somewhere from January to June, but the majority were April-May for me; from what I heard from other applicants, the Southern programs tend to interview a little later. I became very friendly with Southwest & Travelocity and tried to keep a good system to stay organized (I put a packet together for each program including the interview invitation, any paperwork they requested [some wanted to know if you had a particular interest or faculty member you wanted to interview with], the hotel and flight information, and the public transportation maps/etc so I just grabbed the packet before going).

Enjoy the process!

Use the travelling to catch up with old friends or see parts of the country you haven’t seen before… I went to some great restaurants and ate the local cuisine (pizza in Chicago comes to mind!), walked around [the safe parts of] many cities as a “tourist,” and went to various museums and botanical gardens.

I really enjoyed the interviews and learned a lot about myself and what I want to be “when I grow up.” By the end, I felt pretty confident about “where I see myself in five years” and have a roadmap to make sure I get there!

If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions, feels free to get in touch with me on Twitter – I’m nicu_doc even if I haven’t matched yet!

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