What Is A Medical Fellowship? Purpose, Length, Salary

November 16, 2021


So you’ve completed your medical residency, now what? Along your journey to becoming a doctor, you may have heard a little something about medical fellowships. A fellowship is a great way to transition from resident to specialist and can help you with connections and job opportunities along the way.

Fellowships aren’t for everyone. In fact, they can be pretty competitive and challenging to come by. If you’ve been selected to participate in a fellowship program, consider it an honor. Only the best and brightest are selected to participate in fellowship programs.

Taking on more studies may not be the first thing on your list after completing an entire GME program. Although a fellowship will add some study time to your calendar, it allows physicians to expand their knowledge on a particular patient group or organ system.

Whether you’ve been offered a medical fellowship, you’re in residency, or you want to know what a fellowship is, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll go over everything there is to know about medical fellowships.

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What Is a Medical Fellowship?

A medical fellowship is a training program for medical school graduates who have completed their residency and wish to carry on learning in a specific area of medicine. Dentists, veterinarians, and physicians alike can participate in a fellowship after completing a residency program.

During a fellowship, physicians are referred to as “fellows” and may act as attending or consulting physicians in their respective specialty fields. Once the program is complete, physicians no longer require supervision to practice medicine in their sub-specialty. These programs are reserved for the top doctoral graduates, so it is widely considered an honor to be offered a fellowship.

Medical fellows are board-certified physicians who study under experts in a specific sub-specialty. Although a fellowship is not required to practice as a physician after residency, it is recommended for doctors who wish to be expert specialists.

Purpose of a Medical Fellowship

The purpose of a medical fellowship is to produce expert physicians in sub-specialties. These doctors earn the title of “fellowship trained,” which indicates the highest level of dedication to their field. Many fellowship trained doctors credit their success in their subspecialty primarily to their year(s) in a fellowship program.

According to the Orthopaedic Associates of St Augustine, “The focused and dynamic experiences acquired in a one-year fellowship usually take years to achieve in a private practice setting.” Fellowship can also improve a patient’s perception of their doctor. They continue to say that, “Fellowship training provides an added level of expertise, insight and experience, which many patients find comforting.”

Length of a Medical Fellowship

A medical fellowship typically lasts one to three years. Becoming a fellow is only possible after graduating from medical school and completing a medical residency. Fellowships are voluntary and are not required.

Medical fellowship years are considered even more labour-intensive than residency. The years passed in residency depend on the individual program, but generally consist of rounds, patient consultations, specialty training and practicing under the supervision of a senior specialist.

According to senior surgical fellow Katie Russell, MD, her fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is “the coolest job in the Hospital.” She describes a day in the life of a medical fellow as long, starting at 4:30am and lasting until 11:06pm. 

Russell spends the morning doing rounds, consulting with other fellows on the team, and performing a surgical procedure with her senior physician. After lunch, she’s back to the surgical room to perform another surgery with her team. The rest of the day is spent consulting with future surgical patients and catching up on paperwork, with one final surgery before she heads home. 

This is considered a typical day in a medical fellowship. Russell’s fellowship lasted two years at CHOP, which she spent mainly practicing and performing surgical procedures under a senior surgeon. She speaks highly of her time in fellowship, which played a major role in teaching her to be the surgeon she is today. 

What it Means to be Fellowship Trained

A fellowship trained doctor is a physician who has completed a fellowship program after successfully completing med school and residency. In other words, fellowship trained doctors are fully licensed physicians with an extra one to three years of training in their sub specialty.

Being fellowship trained is a major asset to physicians in the job market. The added training represents a passionate and committed physician with a higher understanding of their practice. Only the best and brightest are selected to participate in fellowships, so fellowship-trained doctors are usually the result of high grades and a remarkable performance record in residency. 

How to Get Into a Fellowship Program

Fellowships must be applied for with all your programs necessary application forms. Be sure to check your program’s requirements thoroughly before applying to ensure your eligibility. Sometimes residents may be approached for fellowships if they show excellent potential for the program, otherwise residents must research and apply for fellowships on their own. 

Although each fellowship is different, here is a list of the general information you’ll need to provide in your fellowship application:

Personal Statement

Your personal statement should include your educational objectives and summarize why you’re a good candidate for the fellowship position. What makes you passionate about this area of medicine? Why have you chosen to apply to this specific program? 

This is the place to add your voice and personality to the application. A good personal statement alone will not be enough to get into a fellowship program, but it helps recruiters get a complete picture of who you are as a physician. You can also use this space to draw attention to your unique achievements, and important information you want to include that won’t appear anywhere else on your application. 

Medical CV

By now, you have most likely already started your medical CV. Most students begin their CV half way through medical school, and add to it throughout their years in residency. A great CV will make a compelling case for you as a potential fellow. Here you’ll include all of your relevant work experience, schooling, volunteerism, awards, published articles, etc. to showcase your abilities in the medical field. 

When including work experience in a CV, be sure to use action words to describe your role at your previous position. Fellows are dedicated, driven and hardworking doctors who go the extra mile in their field. Try to keep in mind what recruiters from your specific program will want to see when deciding what experience to include. 

Letters of Recommendation (LoR)

Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of getting into a fellowship program. Fellowships are competitive and seek only the best to be involved in their programs, so having an authority figure back up your skills (specifically in your specialty, if possible) can serve as a green light to your interviewers.

A letter of recommendation can come from anyone who directly oversaw your work in residency, medical volunteerism or medical school. Avoid LoRs from family members, friends, or students. An LoR should be a formal letter commending your professional performance without any personal bias. 

When it comes to letters of recommendation, the more recent, the better. Leave out letters from high school teachers or early years in medical school. Include LoRs from your graduating year or medical school and your years in residency. 

Application Form(s)

Most fellowship programs require completed application forms alongside your CV, personal statement and letters of recommendation. If application forms are required, they should be easy to access through the programs website or directly at the programs location. 

These forms are usually for basic information, although they sometimes include short or long-answer questions. To ensure you’ll have all your information on hand when filling out an application form, be sure to have your medical CV with you. 


Interviews are standard with any medical education program. By the time you’re considering fellowship opportunities, you’ve likely participated in a fair number of them. Interviews are always stressful, but are important to demonstrate your character to your program. 

Interviews can last anywhere from thirty minutes to over an hour. During that time, your interviewer will inquire about the experience you’ve listed on your CV. This is the time to explain how you are proactive in the workplace. How do you problem-solve? What steps have you taken to properly diagnose or treat a patient? 

You’ll want to show your interviewer that you are capable, efficient, passionate, and overall a great fit for the position. Try to lean on your experience and trust yourself. Confidence is a major factor in an interview, as well as presentation and comfortability. You want the interviewer to trust you and feel as confident in your abilities as a patient you’d be treating or a doctor you’re working alongside.

Medical Fellowship Salary

Medical fellowship salary is very similar to resident salary, if not a bit higher. Depending on the program, fellows can expect to earn between $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Some fellows have reported a 20% increase in their salary post-residency.

While it’s true that fellows are typically better compensated than residents, fellows do not earn as much as physicians practicing in their specialty. Medical fellowship salaries can also be lower or higher depending on the specialty. Some areas of medicine are higher paid than others.

Most programs have rules protecting fellows from being underpaid. According to The Fellowship Education Advisory Committee (FEAC), clinical fellows should be remunerated at a rate at least equal to that of a PGY-1 trainee. They also urge departments to review the funding arrangements that do not meet this standard.

Should I Do a Medical Fellowship?

Deciding whether or not to study in a medical fellowship program is tough. However, if you’re passionate about your specialty and wish to continue work in that field, it's certainly a good idea. However, more schooling can be daunting, so it all really depends on your professional goals.

If you’re going back and forth on whether you should apply for a fellowship program, fear not! We’ve assembled the top pros and cons about medical fellowships to help you make an informed decision.

Pros of a Medical Fellowship

You’re hired!

Fellowship trained doctors and specialists are highly sought after in the job market. Completing a fellowship will surely put you on any medical institution’s radar, so you can take your pick of opportunities when the time is right.

Fellowship training results in important specialists

Anyone who has waited in a hospital can attest that expert specialists are in short supply. You may be that one specialist in the room at just the right time to problem-solve with expertise that only you possess. Specialists are needed more and more every day!

A great learning opportunity

Fellowships are specifically for keen learners. A fellowship program is a hands-on learning opportunity like no other and is certainly worth the time commitment for physicians who hope to perfect their craft.

A badge of honor

Medical Fellows are highly respected in the medical community and by patients! Patients are often much more trusting of a fellowship trained doctor. Medical institutions are also much more likely to choose a former fellow when seeking new employees.

Cons of a Medical Fellowship

More schooling

A fellowship will indeed tack on one or more years to your medical studies. While this might not seem very appealing to everyone, fellowships are generally offered to lovers of learning. If a year or so more of school is enough to deter you from participating in a fellowship, perhaps it’s not for you.

Lower pay

While fellows usually make a little more money than residents, their salary is not as much as that of a physician who has completed their studies. If a resident decides to practice as a physician instead of becoming a fellow first, they will receive a much higher pay raise than waiting the extra year(s).

Slower start

If a resident is eager to finish their studies and get on the job market, fellowship might not be the best thing to do. Extra training takes more time and, unfortunately, means less money right away. Becoming a specialist is a difficult and long path worth taking for extremely dedicated physicians with specific interests.


1. Do you get paid as a medical fellow?

Yes! A medical fellowship is a paid program. Medical fellowship salaries range from $60,000 to $70,000 a year, depending on the program and location. Fellows do not make as much as fully trained physicians.

2. Is medical fellowship necessary?

A medical fellowship is a voluntary program and is not necessary for completing medical training. Fellowships focus on narrow subspecialties to expertly train keen specialists. These programs are challenging to enter and complete but are well respected and highly valued by patients and physicians alike.

3. How do you get into a medical fellowship?

To participate in a fellowship program, check your eligibility before applying. Applying to a fellowship program is a highly competitive process, so it’s essential to be well versed in your institution’s requirements and history.

Medical residents may also be selected and invited to participate in a fellowship program upon their residency. Making a good impression on senior physicians in residency is important for your career as a physician, especially if you’re hoping to become a fellow.

4. Is medical fellowship hard to get into?

Medical fellowship programs can be challenging to get into, so be sure to have lots of references on hand. Fellowship is also difficult to complete. Doctors have stated that their first year in fellowship was far more work than their years in residency.

5. Is medical fellowship worth it?

The answer depends on what kind of doctor you want to be. If you’re a keen student with a strong passion for a subspecialty and you’re willing to study hard to practice in that specialty, a fellowship could be the right place for you. If you’d prefer to get to work and feel prepared to take patients on alone after residency, a fellowship may be a waste of time for you.

Fellowships, like any training program, are what you make of them. If you apply yourself entirely and are there to learn, it’ll always be worth it. Just beware of the pay gap between fellows and doctors.

6. What is the medical fellowship match day?

Fellows can be matched with programs in a similar way that students are matched with residencies. According to the NRMP, “a Match allows applicants and program directors to consider each other without pressure, creates an impartial venue for matching applicants’ and program directors preferences, and establishes a uniform date for appointments to programs.”

7. Is a medical fellowship a degree?

A fellowship is a voluntary training program that can only be attended after obtaining a medical school degree and completing the necessary years of residency. All fellows are trained physicians who are improving their skills in one narrow area of medicine.

8. How does a medical fellowship work?

Once a physician is matched with a fellowship, they begin training alongside a specialist to shadow their subspecialty. Specialists who lead fellowship programs are experts in their fields, so training alongside them is an informative and highly beneficial process.

9. What level of doctor is a fellow?

A fellow is a doctor who has completed medical school, passed the board, and finished their required years of residency, and is now involved in a fellowship program. Fellows aim to further their knowledge in a subspecialty to become experts in a narrow area of medicine.


Medical fellowship is strict and not for everyone, but fellowship is a beautiful learning opportunity for devoted physicians who wish to further their knowledge in a subspecialty. Fellows are well respected amongst doctors and patients and are sure to be greeted with plenty of job opportunities following their training.

Although adding more school time after residency may be the last thing on your mind, fellowships are essential for future specialists in many areas of medicine. Medicine is constantly changing and improving, so more and more specialists are needed every day.

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge in a sub-specialty to pursue the job of your dreams, applying for a fellowship program may be for you. Be sure to check the qualifications of your program of interest thoroughly to ensure you have completed enough studies to qualify.

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