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The benefits of doing a fellowship before going into practice

As the end of your residency draws near, you may be debating whether to pursue a fellowship before going into practice. Taking on a fellowship position has its pros and cons, so we talked to someone who has been there.

Dr. Massimo Petrera is an orthopedic surgeon who completed not one but four fellowships — three in Canada and one in the United States. His thoughts may help you decide the best course of action for your career.

What is a fellowship?

A clinical fellowship is a post-residency program designed to give doctors advanced training in their chosen field.

It’s an opportunity to deepen your expertise in your specialization, learn niche skills and get valuable experience working with highly trained mentors.

“Fellowships offer advanced subspecialty training in a mentorship model and give you the ability to work with the best in the field," Dr. Petrera says. “You're likely to encounter complex cases in high volume, which gets you more exposure in your field of interest.

“Compared with residency, where you rotate through subspecialties, in a fellowship program you are doing a high volume of cases in a specific subspecialty. The training is more specific."

And doing a fellowship could even help you find a job, Dr. Petrera adds. There are a lot of networking opportunities, and there’s a higher likelihood of finding a job in your specific area of interest.

Applying for a clinical fellowship

Clinical fellowships are open to doctors who have finished their residency, and with limited spots available, the competition tends to be stiff. The way applications are handled varies from program to program, but you can expect a fairly intensive process.

“Applying for fellowships is a bit more fragmented than applying for residency," Dr. Petrera says. “In some cases, there are matching programs, and in others, positions are arranged directly with programs."

Dr. Petrera's Canadian fellowships were arranged directly with the program, and the application process involved paperwork and an interview. Securing a U.S. fellowship was a little different.

“To get into a U.S. fellowship program, applicants apply through a match system called SF Match, which is a similar process to the CaRMS match system used for residencies in Canada," he explains. “The costs associated with matching include fees for registration and application, credential verification, and document notarization."

Consider your financial situation

Like residency, a fellowship position pays but at a lower salary than a staff physician. With programs running anywhere from three to seven years, this is a significant delay to starting your own practice. That delay could put you further behind in terms of paying down your training debt and saving for the future. That’s why it's prudent to consider your financial situation when deciding whether to pursue a fellowship.

Fellowships are rigorous and demanding, and pursuing one is a major career and life decision. But Dr. Petrera recommends the experience.

“I learned a lot and I gained a lot of experience," he says, adding, “I expanded my network, and I received a job offer, which I accepted, before the completion of my fellowship."

If you have any questions about how to manage your transition from residency to fellowship or practice, or about developing a solid financial plan that will help you cover the costs of getting through the next phase of your career, an MD Advisor* is always available to help.

* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.