Seeking fellowship training? A change could do you good

November 15, 2006

This month, many senior ophthalmology residents are in the throes of interviewing for fellowships and formulating their rank lists.

Based on data from the San Francisco Matching Program, the percentage of ophthalmology residents pursuing fellowship training has been steadily increasing for the past 10 years.1 In a recent survey, third-year ophthalmology residents cited the acquisition of special skills, earning potential, and interest in an academic career among the reasons for pursuing fellowship training.2

Finding the right program is challenging. And although you always put your best foot forward in your applications and interviews, the final result is ultimately in the hands of the "match gods."

Once you decide to pursue fellowship training, one question that inevitably comes up is, "Should I consider staying at my residency program for fellowship training?" There are many reasons to consider doing so, and for many applicants this is no-brainer: "I like it here, and they like me"; "the training will be great"; "I know the system here"; "my spouse has a great job in this city"; and a host of other great reasons make this decision very easy for some.

For others, it is not as clear cut. I just finished my residency in June and decided to obtain fellowship training at another institution. I am certain that I would have had an excellent experience at my home institution. But now that I have started my fellowship, I have come to see the benefits of continuing my training at a new place.

Making contacts

The world of ophthalmology is a small one, and by training at a second institution, I am getting to know more people. At the very least, this will give me more friends with whom to pass time at future academy meetings. But I also am creating bonds with people with whom I can consult on challenging cases and collaborate on projects for the rest of my career (even if I don't work side-by-side with them). In addition, and perhaps most importantly, by working with new faculty and colleagues, I am learning different perspectives on the management of patients, more information from which to create my own management style.

Doing things differently

By training at two institutions, I also am gaining an appreciation for how each institution does things differently. No two departments of ophthalmology are alike, and all have different strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you don't even realize that a place is strong in a particular aspect until you see (or remember) how much worse the other place is in that regard.

Whether it is different methods of medical record-keeping, different styles of clinic administration, different grand rounds formats, or different approaches to teaching residents, going to a new institution has added a level to my education beyond the simple acquisition of clinical knowledge and skills. When I am done with my training, I plan on drawing from the strengths of both institutions to optimize my practice.

Other benefits

Then there are the more obvious but still important benefits of moving. I'm living in a different part of the country with all that its different climate and culture has to offer me. I'm learning Spanish, playing tennis, and taking my kids to the beach every weekend.

It comes down to a fairly simple concept: it is very educational to see how things are done at different places. So give it some thought, submit your rank list, and relax. Ultimately, you're going to end up at a great place and get exceptional training, whether you stay put or go someplace new.

References

1. http:// http://www.sfmatch.org/ (Password required to access fellowship match statistics.)