CAP@Your Service – Summer 2007
The process of applying for pathology fellowships is broken. I know, because I endured it myself two years ago, and it hasn’t changed. During my last three years of participation on the CAP Residents Forum Executive Committee, I have also seen multiple resolutions presented calling for action to fix the process and have had several Junior Members ask me for help with navigating the process.
Here’s a typical scenario of how the process works today. For most pathology residents, around the middle of their third year, they start considering whether or not to do a fellowship. By this very fact, they have pretty much ruled out some of the more competitive areas like dermatopathology and hematopathology, which, in many instances, are filled more than two years in advance! So, they may also have to consider if they want to take an additional year to do surg-path while waiting for their training of choice. But having decided that further training is probably a good idea, the resident picks a subspecialty and then tries to find which training programs are available in that area.
At this point, the process may have led to some soul-searching and/or disappointment, but there hasn’t been any real work involved. However, since there is no central catalog of pathology fellowship training opportunities, the process now becomes trickier. By talking to senior residents, visiting subspecialty Web sites, and generally pounding the pavement, the resident comes up with a list of programs to which he or she has an interest in applying. And, this is where the process really falls apart. For every program, the resident must individually request an application, fill out a different set of forms, keep track of the deadlines, and make sure a different list of requirements is met. The resident assiduously takes on the project, starts getting packets in the mail, filling out forms, requesting letters of reference, sending out CVs, setting up interviews and getting coverage for the days to be gone. And then, as he or she is navigating his/her way through the hectic process, an offer is suddenly received from one of the programs visited! What is the resident to do? There are still interviews to be scheduled if one is interested in other programs and doesn’t want to miss out on an opportunity. Meanwhile, the fellowship director is saying an answer is needed by the end of the week.
Yes, the process of applying for pathology fellowships is broken. And residents have known it for years. But part of the problem has been that there hasn’t been an organization with both the ability and desire to fix it. Well, at our spring meeting, the Residents Forum Executive Committee (RFEC) decided to take a new approach to this problem. As residents we certainly have the desire to fix the issue. In this age of connectivity, communications, and the Internet, we also think we have the ability.
The CAP Residents Forum has put together and made available online a Standardized Pathology Fellowship Application (SPFA). The SPFA is available right now on the CAP for Residents Web site. This application was developed by the Executive Committee of the Residents Forum as a resident-driven effort to streamline the fellowship application process. It is meant to help trainees, as well as the programs, by providing a consistent form and accompanying document requirements for any program willing to accept it. It even makes recommendations about the timeline for fellowship applications, although applicants are cautioned that they must still contact each training program to determine their individual timelines.
Both applicants and programs, as well as those who support the idea of improving the pathology fellowship application process, can help this initiative succeed. If you are a pathology resident applying for a fellowship, support the SPFA and save yourself some time. Request that those programs, which you are considering, accept this new process. And, if your training program is willing to accept the Standardized Application, please e-mail Jan Glas with information about which sub-specialties at your program accepted the application, as well as what timelines (if any) will be observed. There certainly is no obligation for any program to accept the form, but we are hoping that most programs will.
I am very pleased that the CAP RFEC has been able to develop the SPFA, but I recognize also that there may be concerns or questions about the work we have done. I invite anyone with questions or comments to e-mail me directly. Incidentally, the issue of fellowship application reform has also been raised in the AMA Resident and Fellows Section. It appears that in pathology we are ahead of the curve. While this is an effort that will require the good-willed participation of many, I hope we can set an example for the other specialties by our success!
Samuel K. Caughron, MD
Chair of the Residents Forum
P.S. It looks like the Residents Forum on September 29 in Chicago is going to set another CAP record as the largest organized gathering of pathology trainees ever. If you haven’t already done so, register today for CAP ’07 and make plans to participate as we help shape of the future of our specialty!