Dear Pat responds to Surgical Oncology Hopeful

29 Jul 2018

Dear Pat,

I am a second-year general surgery resident interested in a surgical oncology fellowship. I come from a community general surgery program without the opportunity for basic science research or research years. What can I do to make myself a competitive candidate for surgical oncology fellowship interviews?


Surgical Oncology Hopeful

Dear “Surgical Oncology Hopeful”,

Surgical training programs are highly variable in terms of requirements and/or availability of research opportunities (basic, translational, and clinical). Those differences are taken into account when reviewing an applicant for a fellowship position. For example, expectations of accomplishments for someone at a training program with 2-year research programs built-in will be very different than for someone coming from a community program. Having said that, what sets you apart from other applicants is what you have achieved.

Retrospective charts reviews can be conducted without dedicated research years. They should be completed, presented at national meetings and translated into a published manuscript. A small case series of a novel topic may not even require IRB approval at many institutions and can be easily completed.  Additionally, think outside the box – a survey of trainees, recent graduates from your program, and current faculty can be created by you to investigate a plethora of topics. Examples could include: generational differences in learning (social media, podcasts vs didactic lectures, textbooks), perception of instruction vs guidance in the operating room – how to teach judgment vs technique, assessment of burnout at various years of training / practice, etc. Perhaps your training program has an opportunity for an away elective or volunteerism in a 3rd world country. Make the most of this opportunity by preparing in advance a survey comparing differences between your training program / hospital environment / resources. Alternatives to research include: developing a skills session for medical students interested in surgery, a guidebook with tips and tricks for successful internship, or building a mentoring program for junior residents.

You may also consider seeking resident membership in the professional society for the fellowship field in which you are interested. Resident membership often opens up many opportunities for networking and mentoring which may also lead to collaborations in your field, and with people at institutions that may have research opportunities more readily available.  

The key to a competitive application is to have items on your CV that separate you from everyone else with the same inservice, STEP scores, and glowing letters of recommendation. Show success by completing the task, making the most of your training environment and opportunities, demonstrating team building and leadership, and thinking outside the box. Showcase your uniqueness.


Christine Laronga, MD, FACS

Christine Laronga is a Senior Member at Moffitt Cancer Center and a Professor of Surgery at the University of South Florida and specializes in disease of the breast. She joined the Association of Women Surgeons as a resident and has been an active member for over a decade. She is also the Immediate Past President. Follow her on Twitter @clarongamd.

The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is excited to bring to you a resident and fellow focused blog titled, “Dear Pat”. “Dear Pat” answers questions about issues pertinent to surgical residents and fellows, such as navigating through residency, applying to fellowship, family planning, and handling difficult situations on the job. Questions may be submitted by residents and fellows anonymously and will be answered by AWS council members. This monthly blog is published the fourth Sunday of each month. We want to hear from you, if you are interested in submitting your anonymous question, use this link.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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