The greatest challenge in applying to fellowship is deciding where to apply. What program will best fit your needs and interests? Where will you feel most fulfilled with pursuing further training? There is only so much information that can be scoured from the internet to delineate various programs. Thus, to help aid your decision in selecting a fellowship we went directly to the source, asking program directors and current and former fellows for insight into their programs and tips for finding the right fit in fellowship.
When current and former fellows were asked what advice they had for applicants choosing where to apply, the common thread amongst responses was to determine what you are hoping to gain from fellowship and to visualize how that will help you establish your career. Some might prioritize specific training experiences or certifications offered by a program, others, subspecialty areas of research, and others might want a specific geographic location. Several fellows advised looking into mentorship or opportunities that would be available outside the fellowship program, particularly if interested in staying in the area. These types of opportunities can help establish a network to springboard your career. Many fellows stressed the utility of fellowship to establish connections both within wilderness medicine and greater academic medicine.
“…make time to develop a clear vision of the career to which you aspire following a [Wilderness Medicine] fellowship. Then use that to identify and prioritize specific goals for your fellowship and look for the programs best suited to help you achieve those goals.” “I chose a fellowship because I was late to the game in getting into the outdoors and wanted to jump-start my skills & experiences, but also wanted to maintain a focus on [Emergency Medical Services] (EMS) so I chose a program with easy access to the outdoors & training, and an emphasis on EMS & [Search and Rescue]”
-Dr. Graham Brant, former University of Utah Fellow
“…keep in mind your ideal job after fellowship and think how your fellowship will either provide a career defining opportunity or will be a stepping stone to your ideal career, or both.”
“Be very clear about the skills you want to learn and the experiences you want to have outside of the hospital. Ask what kind of mentorship is available for your goals outside of your program director.”
“I had amazing mentorship from physicians outside of my fellowship and specifically sought a fellowship that encouraged non-traditional, fellow driven projects and collaboration across academic institutions and departments.”
– Dr. Ashley Weisman, former MGH Fellow
" …the first step is narrowing down your search to places that match your interests.”
– Dr. Nick Black, current UCSD Fellow
“…I think it's important to consider what goals you want to achieve in fellowship and which faculty group or geography is going to best facilitate those objectives. I wanted exposure to event medicine (trail running, mountain biking, etc.), high altitude medicine, work with search and rescue/ski patrol, and technical experience in mountaineering. I specifically researched programs which had these educational opportunities through their websites and word of mouth.”
– Dr. Ryan Dollbaum, current University of Colorado-Denver Fellow
As to what sets their individual programs apart, fellowship directors elaborated on relationships with their associated universities and local communities, resources that can provide smooth access to a broader range of unique opportunities. In doing your research, investigate what networking resources within the wilderness medicine field have been laid out within each program. Do they have connections with working abroad? Do they offer avenues to seek higher education or further certifications? Are they currently running projects you are interested in getting involved with? What opportunities do they provide you to teach others? What about the geographical location creates specific experiences? Each program has varying responses to these questions and finding the answers can help you determine where you want to be. Dr. Susanne Spano, UCSF-Fresno Wilderness Medicine Fellowship Director, has generated a working list of Wilderness Medicine Fellowships and their various attributes.
We have a deep bench throughout the local universities and the world to help Fellows get where they want to go.”
–Dr. Stuart Harris, MGH Fellowship Director
“One of my favorite things about fellowship was getting to work both in a rural, critical access, 5 bed hospital on Catalina Island as well as a busy tertiary care center with residents.”
–Dr. Amy Briggs, former UCI Fellow
“…our fellows receive experience with the development and oversight of wilderness EMS systems and serve as the assistant medical director for the [North Carolina] State Parks. Our location in the Southeast gives us excellent access to year-round whitewater, and fellows are able to hone skills in whitewater paddling, and swiftwater rescue.”
–Dr. Christopher Davis, Wake Forest Fellowship Director
“Our program is unique in that we have the National Park Service Parkmedic Program, [which allows] residents and fellows [to serve as] the Local EMS Medical Advisor (LEMA), and [work with] faculty of the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park.”
–Dr. Susanne Spano, UCSF-Fresno Fellowship Director
“The University of Utah Wilderness Medicine [fellowship] focuses on mountain medicine. Fellows experience mountain medicine locally in the Wasatch Mountain Range, The Tetons, Alaska, and Bhutan… We focus on training fellows in technical rescue skills in addition to didactic education.”
–Dr. Scott McIntosh, University of Utah Fellowship Director
Identifying where to apply may be the most difficult aspect of the fellowship application process, but interviews exist to help finalize decisions for both the interviewer and interviewee. Fellowship directors and fellows agreed on how to be successful during interviews: be clear about what you are hoping to gain from fellowship and if you still need more direction be clear about that uncertainty too. It is important to find a program that will be able to help you succeed and provide guidance where needed. Directors recognize if you have done the research and can speak to why you applied to their program and are choosing to interview with them. Remember, each program is unique, and so are you. Be genuine and avoid trying to impersonate the candidate you think directors want. Many applicants worry they are not a strong fellowship candidate due to lacking extensive wilderness medicine experience; however, fellowship directors state they are not seeking someone who already has the answers. Rather, directors are looking for fellows who are great clinicians, who are curious, proactive, and have focus. Many directors alluded to a trap some applicants fall into, seemingly applying for fellowship just to be able to travel or to “have fun”. A strong interest in being outdoors and traveling does not define a good applicant. While fun is a given, it is not the purpose of fellowship. This pitfall can be avoided by bringing your own priorities and ideas for creating a successful fellowship year to the interview.
Having experience in teaching wilderness medicine subjects in their residency is great to see, as it reflects a commitment to their focus. Likewise, a critical analysis on any subject is a bonus, as it shows an academic perspective that we can help train and further focus on our specialty.”
–Dr. Grant Lipman, former Stanford Fellowship Director
“…[research] each program thoroughly. Review any available online resources, reach out to program faculty & alumni, and inquire about prior research projects, training & educational experiences, program curriculum, or any other relevant information.”
“Of course wilderness medicine is ‘fun’, but that [alone] is not a good reason to do our fellowship.”
“I want to work with a fellow for a year who I could work alongside for a lifetime.”
“…being genuine with interviewers and yourself is key, so that both parties can achieve the right fit.”
“We like to see some prior experience in some aspect of wilderness medicine, for example research, [wilderness medicine] student interest groups, and/or education. We realize that medical school and residency do not provide an extraordinary amount of time to accomplish a deep track record, but some focused interest in [wilderness medicine] is essential.”
“A strong interest in being outdoors and/or traveling does not necessarily make someone a good applicant. Dedication towards the academics of wilderness medicine and advancing the field is much more important. In addition... Early timing of the application also informs us that the applicant is dedicated, motivated, and has given the position much thought beforehand.”
The decision to complete a wilderness medicine fellowship can seem difficult to navigate. However, it is an incredibly rewarding, welcoming, and close-knit community where one can further explore their passion for wilderness medicine and contribute to the future of this ever-expanding field.
“[Fellowship has] also [been] great for making connections in the field and opening doors to exciting opportunities post-fellowship.”