5 Tips for Successfully Matching With an Interventional Cardiology Fellowship Program

Sarah Elsayed

As physicians, I would say that we are an intelligent bunch. But taking your career to the next level requires a certain set of skills independent of IQ. Making the decision on what to pursue next (if anything) is half the battle, so congratulations on deciding to further your career in interventional cardiology!

In order for you to successfully set yourself up to match with that perfect fellowship—something I’ve recently gone through—it is important not only to build upon what you’ve learned in the past but to be open to new experiences and challenges in the future. Hard work and research endeavors may be obvious goals, but have you really made time to connect with an amazing mentor yet?

Here are my tips to increase your confidence while applying for interventional cardiology fellowships and to ensure that you match with your top choice:

1.  Find a mentor

Look for a successful mentor who is knowledgeable about the interventional cardiology field and who cares about your wellbeing and future aspirations. Having a good one will motivate you to achieve more than you think you could. This person will teach you the ropes, advocate on your behalf, and help guide you down your desired career path. For example, I’m interested in academic medicine, especially in the interventional cardiology and peripheral spaces, and my mentor is an extremely successful academic interventional cardiologist who is also interested in peripheral vascular disease. He is always encouraging me to present at conferences and also makes an effort to attend my presentations at our institution and around the United States. My mentor is my role model—watching him save lives, perform complicated procedures, conduct research, edit papers, partake in clinical trials, and be a great family man inspires me to take the same path. He also challenges me to push beyond my boundaries, and the benefits of this have surprised even me.

2.  Conduct research in the field

Whether or not you would like to pursue an academic career, conducting your own research is very important during your general cardiology fellowship. It is part of the learning process and a necessary step toward gaining the experience of presenting at national meetings, which promotes self-confidence. Also, when presenting an oral presentation or poster, you stand out to program directors and other experts in the field. Performing research shows your enthusiasm and interest in interventional cardiology; the more research you do, the more committed you appear.

3.  Never underestimate the power of hard work

Even though every other resident or fellow seems to be a “hard worker,” hustling and going above and beyond your responsibilities will be noticed by those you ask to write letters of recommendation. Interventional cardiology fellowship is a strenuous and grueling year, and program directors want to know that you are hardworking and want to learn, even after long hours. I am always the first fellow to volunteer to take call if someone has a family emergency. In the past few years, I’ve edited a cardiac care unit (CCU) handbook for house staff, created a simplified card with medications used in the cath lab, and edited the echocardiography summary sheet to include the updated guidelines. When I was rotating in CCU, there was a 21-year-old woman with a 4-month-old baby and peripartum cardiomyopathy who was in heart failure and on 2 inotropes. At this point, it was decided that she needed a heart transplant; I did not delegate to other junior house staff and took it upon myself to speak to social workers, financial workers, Medi-Cal workers, and physicians from other institutions multiple times every day until I was able to make her transfer happen before she crashed. Hard work is not always fun, but it was very rewarding to see my patient’s gratitude. Initiative will shine through on applications and could lead to learning experiences you have only hoped for.

4.  Embody both aptitude and attitude—and know the difference

Maya Angelou once said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In other words, always be nice—whether it be to co-fellows, attendings, residents, medical students, lab technicians, or nurses—and you will be rewarded. The interventional cardiology community is small, and word gets around when someone’s ego gets the better of them. On the other hand, niceness will not make up for a lack of skill. Because you may be applying in your second year of general cardiology fellowship, nobody expects perfection, but you should know the basic concepts of how to operate in a cath lab.

5.  Keep an open mind when applying

There are 139 accredited interventional cardiology fellowship programs in the country. While the benefits of staying at the same institution where you completed your general cardiology fellowship are obvious—not having to move before starting a new job is very attractive—you may limit yourself by dismissing other programs. Regardless of which option you prefer, apply broadly. Interventional cardiology is very competitive and most programs already have internal candidates that they would like to keep, so applying broadly will only help your chances of matching into your ideal program.