As Dr. Melanie Schaffer neared the end of her family medicine residency in the spring of 2015, she found herself considering a hospital medicine fellowship. Unsure if she could get a hospitalist job in an urban market given the outpatient focus of her training, Dr. Schaffer began searching for fellowships on the Society of Hospital Medicine website.1
Likewise, in 2014 Dr. Micah Prochaska was seriously contemplating a hospital medicine fellowship. He was about to graduate from internal medicine residency at the University of Chicago and was eager to gain skills and experience in clinical research.
In 2006, there were a total of 16 HM fellowship programs in the United States, catering to graduates of internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatric residencies.2 Since that time, the number of hospital medicine fellowships has grown considerably, paralleling the explosive growth of hospital medicine as a specialty. For example, at one point in the summer of 2018, the SHM website listed 13 clinical family practice fellowships, 29 internal medicine fellowships, and 26 pediatric fellowships. Each fellowship emphasized different aspects of hospital medicine including clinical practice, research, quality improvement, and leadership.
Now more than ever, residents interested in hospital medicine may get overwhelmed by the multitude of options for fellowship training. And the question remains: why pursue fellowship training in the first place?
“I learned that as a family physician it is harder to get a job as a hospitalist outside of smaller communities, and I wanted to have extra training and credentials,” Dr. Schaffer said. “I pursued a fellowship in hospital medicine to hone my inpatient skills, obtain more ICU exposure, and work on procedures.”
Dr. Schaffer’s online search eventually led her to the Advanced Hospital Medicine Fellowship at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. This 1-year hospital medicine fellowship started in 2008 with an intentional clinical focus, aiming to provide additional training opportunities in hospital medicine primarily to family medicine residency graduates.
“The goal of our program is to bridge the gap between the training of family medicine and internal medicine so our trainees can refine and develop their inpatient skills,” said Dr. David Wilson, program director of the Swedish Hospitalist Fellowship.
During her fellowship year, Dr. Schaffer was caring for hospitalized adult patients on a general medical ward, with supervision from a dedicated group of teaching hospitalists. She also completed rotations in the ICU, on subspecialty services, and received advanced training in point-of-care ultrasound.
Now in her second year of practice as a full time adult hospitalist at Swedish Medical Center, Dr. Schaffer believes her year of hospital medicine fellowship prepared her well for her current position.
“I am constantly using the tools and knowledge I acquired during my fellowship year,” she said. “I would encourage anyone who has an interest in working on procedural skills and gaining more ICU exposure to pursue a similar fellowship.”
In contrast to Dr. Schaffer, Dr. Prochaska was satisfied with his clinical training but chose to pursue a hospital medicine fellowship to develop research skills. Prior to starting the 2-year Hospitalist Scholars Training Program at the University of Chicago in 2014, Dr. Prochaska had a clear vision of becoming a hospital medicine health outcomes investigator, and believed this career would not be possible without the additional training offered by a research-focused fellowship program.
The Hospitalist Scholars Program at the University of Chicago, one of the first programs of its kind, offers a built-in master’s degree to all participants. At the conclusion of his fellowship training in 2016, Dr. Prochaska completed his Master’s in Health Sciences, which gives considerable attention to biostatistics and epidemiology. According to Dr. Prochaska, the key to becoming a successful academic researcher lies in one’s ability to write grants and receive funding, a skill he honed during this fellowship.
Now on faculty at the University of Chicago in the Section of Hospital Medicine, Dr. Prochaska devotes approximately 75% of his time to research and 25% to patient care.
Beyond the research training and experience he gained during his hospital medicine fellowship, Dr. Prochaska said he values the mentorship afforded to him. He noted that one of the most meaningful experiences during his 2 years of fellowship was having the opportunity to sit down with his program directors, Dr. Vineet Arora and Dr. David Meltzer, to discuss the trajectory of his career in academic medicine.
“It is hard to find senior mentors in hospital medicine,” Dr. Prochaska said. “You could get a master’s degree on your own, but with the fellowship program, your mentors can help you think about the next steps in your career.”
For Dr. Schaffer and Dr. Prochaska, fellowship provided training and experience well-matched to their individual goals and helped foster their careers in hospital medicine. For some, however, a fellowship may not be a necessary step on the path to becoming a hospitalist. Many leaders in the field of hospital medicine have advanced in their careers without further training. In addition, receiving little more than a resident’s salary for an additional year or more during fellowship may not be financially tenable for some. Given the ongoing demand for hospitalists across the country, the lack of a fellowship on your resume may not significantly diminish your chances of securing a position, especially in the community setting.
In the end, the decision of whether to pursue a hospital medicine fellowship is a personal one, and the programs available are as varied as the individuals completing them. “Any hospitalist interested in more than simply patient care – potentially QI, medical education, policy, or administration – should consider a fellowship,” Dr. Prochaska said. “Hospitalists have a unique opportunity to be involved in all these areas, but there are absolutely critical skills you need to develop beyond your clinical skills to succeed.” Fellowships are one way to enhance these nonclinical skills.
The best advice to those considering a hospital medicine fellowship? Dedicate some time to engage in self-assessment and goal setting, before jumping to SHM’s online list of programs.
Ask yourself: “Where do I see myself in 10 years? What do I wish to accomplish in my career as a hospitalist? What additional training (clinical, research, quality improvement, leadership) might I need to achieve these goals? Will completion of a hospital medicine fellowship help me make this vision a reality?”
For Dr. Schaffer, a clinical practice–focused hospital medicine fellowship served as a necessary bridge between her family medicine residency and her current position as an adult hospitalist. While for Dr. Prochaska, a research-intensive hospital medicine fellowship was a key step in launching his academic career.
Of course, for many trainees at the end of residency, your self-assessment may lead you in the opposite direction. In that case it is time to find your first “real job” as an attending physician. But if you feel you need more training to meet your personal goals you should rest assured – whether now or in the future, there is almost certainly a hospital medicine fellowship that is right for you.
Dr. Schouten is a hospitalist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and serves on the Society of Hospital Medicine Physicians in Training Committee. Dr. Sundar is a hospitalist at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Sandy Springs, Ga., and serves as the Site Assistant Director for Education.
2. Ranji et al. “Hospital medicine fellowships: Works in progress.” American J Med. 2006 Jan;119(1):72.e1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.07.061.