It’s That Time Again: Fellowship Applications and Interviews

by Ajul Shah

“Look around and try to enjoy this process. The people in this room will be your colleagues for the rest of your life.” – Dr. Julian Pribaz, during the pre-interview dinner for Harvard Plastic Surgery Residency in 2010

I’m not sure if Dr. Pribaz would remember saying this to a group of potential applicants in 2010, but I can say with conviction that his words have remained in my mind for the 5 years I have been a plastic surgery resident at Yale. Certainly, the words hold even more weight now, after completing another step in the lifelong process of interviewing for “the next position”.

Interviews for hand and upper extremity fellowship have recently completed, and the match process is now in full force. The NRMP website has recently made available the ability to set one’s rank list. There is a sense of déjà-vu that abounds. Didn’t I just do this? Has it really been 5 years? Is it possible for something to feel like both an eternity and the blink of an eye at the same time? It’s difficult to describe unless you are talking to someone who is either going through the process or has been through it already.

The standard questions on the interview trail appear – “Why are you interested in hand surgery?”, “Why did you choose medicine in the first place?”, “What made you choose plastic surgery?”, “What do you do for fun?”. But other questions tug at the subconscious, giving time for reflection – “What appealed to you about your home institution?”, “Looking back, do you feel that it was the right choice?”, “How have you changed in the past 5 years?”. Although I wasn’t expecting questions like this, I feel fortunate because my gut reaction was the true one – my time at Yale has been everything I hoped it would be and more, from both a surgical education as well as a personal growth perspective.  I wonder, do most residents feel the same way when looking back?

Even though plastic surgery applicants comprise only one-third of the total hand and upper extremity applicant pool, I was lucky enough to see so many familiar faces from 5 years prior throughout the interview process. “Didn’t you end up at XYZ program?” “How has it been there?” “Let’s get a drink after dinner and catch up”. Few experiences are more cathartic than the infamous set of drinks after dinner with colleagues who have been running parallel lives for 5 years. The setting is typified by the trading of stories of hardship during residency, anger and retribution towards the emergency department (a truly universal stomping ground), the growth of families, the future of the specialty, and of course, what was next on tap (both figuratively and literally). I felt both humbled and excited to be around such an extraordinary group of people, some of which will become leaders and pioneers in our field (certainly more excited than if I were sitting with a group of craniofacial applicants – jk jk.)

I’m not sure what the future holds for us – the all too familiar feeling of uncertainty that pervades this process provokes both apprehension and anticipation. I’m hopeful, as are others, to have the opportunity to continue my education and surgical training. But I can be sure that Dr. Pribaz was accurate in his declaration at dinner – it will be a lifetime of chance meetings with familiar faces, defined by the nostalgia of stories over a lifetime of after dinner drinks.

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