How to Apply for Pre-Residency Fellowships

April 8, 2024
3 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 4/8/24

Thinking of applying for a pre-residency fellowship but not sure where to begin? Read on, and we’ll walk you through the process!

Fellowships are bound to be on every aspiring doctor’s mind. With all the nerves and anxiety of matching into a residency, let alone a residency of your choice, students have often wondered how to best tip their odds in their favor. This is where something like an early fellowship can come into play.

There’s a lot to understand about fellowships, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you go through the appropriate steps and research opportunities you’re interested in, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to land a quality fellowship.

As with anything in medicine, there comes a point where all the knowledge you acquire needs to be put to use. It’s not uncommon for medical students to envision an ideal specialty only to become disillusioned once they get their hands dirty in a live clinical setting. We’ll cover what you need to look out for with fellowships.

Without further delay, let’s break down fellowship before residency!

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Understanding Pre-Residency Fellowships 

Fellowships prior to residency are an opportunity for medical students to get experience in a potential residency before matching and committing to one. You’ll get a wide variety of experience and be surrounded by quality medical professionals. Students will have the ability to get real hand-on experience as well as contribute to medical research.

During a fellowship, you’ll be able to serve on the frontlines in a healthcare setting. Fellows are entrusted with learning the foundations of clinical care and requirements in specific medical settings. What this means is you’ll gain a thorough appreciation of the roles different kinds of doctors are expected to assume.

Furthermore, a fellowship prior to residency usually involves a research component. Your fellowship will serve as an opportunity to flex your creative and inquisitive muscles. Being able to ask questions and interpret the results is not only expected but rewarded in fellowships.

Reasons to Pursue a Pre-Residency Fellowship

The main reason to pursue a fellowship before your residency is to gain real and theoretical experience in a medical specialty you’re interested in. Completing a fellowship before residency can make you a more competitive and attractive applicant when trying to match with a residency program.

A fellowship experience before residency can really help you commit to and better understand your options when you’re deciding which residency match to accept. Instead of having an inaccurate picture of a certain medical specialty, you’ll be able to see the environment, work dynamics, and patient interaction doctors have.

With the abundance of knowledge, you’re responsible for learning in medical school, it can be difficult to imagine the stress of choosing a specialty after your studies. While some students come in with certainty, most change their minds a couple of times. Early fellowship experience can make this process easier and more forgiving.

Applying for Pre-Residency Fellowships

To apply for a fellowship, you’ll need to get licensed, research the position, and then apply. Due to the sensitive nature of patient care, any medical professional working in a clinical setting is almost always required to become licensed in their field and medical specialty.

The standard across America for doctors is to write the USMLE exam. The test includes three distinct “steps” that are written individually. You’ll be evaluated on the material you learned in medical school, the foundations of clinical medicine, and your competency in patient management.

After you’re licensed, you’ll be able to apply for pre-residency fellowships that involve clinical components and other obligations. Applying for fellowships is similar to applying for a regular job: you’ll have to research the position, prepare your application, and then make a good impression during an interview.

Essentials for Your Pre-Residency Fellowship Application

A successful fellowship application will include proof of licensure, a compelling personal statement, and strong recommendation letters. The process of applying to fellowships should prepare you well when it comes time to apply to actual residencies.

As mentioned before, you can think of your application as if you were applying for a real medical position. Your resume should list all relevant experiences that would be appealing to medical professionals. This can include any research or clinical experience you have. 

When writing a letter of intent, give clear targeted reasons why you feel the specific fellowship you’re applying for can make you a more desirable candidate. Outlining how the experience will help you reach your long-term career goals shows thought, dedication, and planning.

Tips to Boost Your Odds of Securing a Pre-Residency Fellowship

The best tips for obtaining a pre-residency fellowship are to show deliberate intent, have a complete application, and make a lasting impression during your interview. Fellowship positions consider the complete picture when looking at applicants. You won’t simply be able to obtain a high score to guarantee a position.

Your personal statement is the best place to communicate your demonstrated interest. Here, you’ll have time to carefully articulate to medical professionals why you feel they should give you the fellowship opportunity over other applicants. Being able to address specific advantages your chosen fellowship will offer can give you more credibility.

Having a full resume with relevant experience can serve as a scaffold during your interview if you ever feel lost. Mixing tangible experience with soft interpersonal skills like communication and understanding can help demonstrate your potential as a pre-resident fellow.


If you’re still wondering about a pre-residency fellowship, consider checking out our expert answers below!

1. Can You Do a Fellowship Before Residency?

Yes, a fellowship is done before residency. Students follow a similar application process when applying for residencies.

2. How Do I Apply for Residency in the US IMG?

To apply for residency in the US as an IMG, you’ll need to apply for the appropriate visa and be certified by the ECFMG. This will also likely be required for research fellowships for international medical graduates.

3. Is USMLE Required for Fellowships?

Yes, most fellowships will have a clinical component which requires USMLE licensing. 

4. Can an IMG Become a Cardiologist in the USA?

While an IMG can become a cardiologist in the USA, it is less likely than other medical specialties. This is because US-trained doctors are preferred during the residency matching process.


Applying for a pre-residency fellowship involves several steps. Students must become licensed by passing relevant USMLE Step exams, gaining relevant experience, and preparing their application materials. Fellowship applicants usually include resumes, letters of recommendation, and personal statements.

Although many people envision medical fellowships after residency, doing a fellowship before your residency can give you clinical and research experience.. Having done a fellowship prior to residency can make students give students real-world experience and give them a sense of resident life.

If you ever feel unsure about your medical career path, you should never be afraid to reach out for help. Our team of admission experts has proven experience helping students make their dream medical careers a reality. All that you need is a bit of dedication, commitment, and planning.

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