Gastroenterology has become one of the most competitive fellowship in the field of internal medicine.1 The application phase usually starts during the second half of PGY-2 year, and includes writing a personal statement, completing an application form via the electronic residency application service (ERAS), obtaining letters of recommendations, and selecting the programs to apply for. The interview process, which is considered the most important factor in the fellowship selection process, occurs during the fall of PGY-3 year, from mid-August until early November.2,3 Once the interview has been offered, this process can be broken down into 3 steps.
The first step is preparation for the interview. This includes replying to an interview offer in a timely manner, as it would provide you an opportunity to secure your preferred interview date, and it could reflect your work ethic. For each fellowship program you will visit, it is wise to create an electronic file containing information about the program, your itinerary for the interview trip, and any documents you receive from a program coordinator. Researching a program in advance will allow you to obtain helpful information for the interview and your decision-making during the ranking process. Most information is available online, including details about the division, faculty, and training systems. You should be familiar with the research interests and publications of the faculty members of each program in order to gauge if the program shares your interests and to tailor questions to interviewers. It is also essential that you know your own application well, as most interview questions will be generated based on your curriculum vitae, personal statement, and other application documents.
The second step is the interview. The interview allows you to further assess whether the program is a good match; at the same time, it allows the program to educate you on its strengths, training, research opportunities, and career development provided to trainees. Although the gastroenterology program director survey has not been available regarding the factors related to ranking decision, one can extrapolate from the National Resident Matching Program residency program director survey.3 Three factors had the highest impact on the ranking of applicants across many residencies: 1) interactions with faculty during interview and visit, 2) interpersonal skills, and 3) interactions with house staff during interview and visit. These three factors can only be evaluated during the interview process, which emphasizes the interview as the crucial step for program directors. Interviewing is a skill that develops and improves over time. However, your performance might diminish through the end of the interview trail due to fatigue. Applicants should therefore arrange their top choices at the middle of the interview trail.2,4
As a general rule, during interviews, being timely, professional, enthusiastic, attentive, and prepared to ask questions are crucial, as those characteristics reflect your work ethic. It is best to take notes using a traditional pen and paper rather than electronic devices as the latter could be misinterpreted as inattention during the interview process. If the interviewers don't offer you their name cards, ask for a card after each interview session so that you can take a note regarding the additional information you receive, tailor a thank you note, and use it as a reminder during ranking process. For those who are interested in academic gastroenterology, clinician-investigator track, or physician-scientist track, some major programs also offer a master's degree during general gastroenterology years in fields such as clinical study design, epidemiology, biostatistics, or public health. Try to also use the interview day to get to know many of the program's current fellows to get a candid information regarding satisfaction with the training, environment, mentorship, and work-life balance during their training. You should also observe interactions at fellow-to-fellow, fellow-to-faculty, and fellow-to-program director levels.2,5
The third step occurs after the interview. Immediately after the interview, take a few notes describing general impressions and pros and cons about each program. This will be very useful once you start creating your rank list. Although it is not mandatory, an applicant should take a few moments to write thank-you notes to the program director, other interviewers, program coordinators, and fellows encountered during the interview. A specific, well-written letter will distinguish the applicant from others, and will be remembered favorably during the ranking process.5 Letters can be sent via postal mail or email, though the latter may be preferable for its two-way communication nature.6
Remember, an early start with well-prepared strategies for the interview process will provide a competitive applicant a successful match into gastroenterology fellowship.
Tossapol Kerdsirichairat MD
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
ACG Case Reports Journal
2. Madanick RD, Yoon SS, Abraham R. Selecting a fellowship in gastroenterology. Gastroenterology
5. Bosslet GT, Burkart KM, Miles MC, et al. Preparing for fellowship in internal medicine. Steps for success with a focus on pulmonary and/or critical care programs. Ann Am Thorac Soc