What You Always Wanted to Know About the Retina Fellowship Match (PART III): MATCH DAY & BEYOND

Yoshihiro Yonekawa, Mass Eye & Ear
Eric Nudleman, UCSD
Jonathan Prenner, NJ Retina
RETINA Roundup Editors

We return to the fellowship match series where we interviewed 15 retina fellowship program directors. In the first post we discussed what qualities programs looks for in applicants and how to secure interviews.  In the second post, the program directors told us how their fellowships carry out their interviews, and even about pet peeves they have. This is the final post from the faculty perspective, where the program directors tell us about match day, and their take home messages.

When and how do you contact the newly matched residents?

Sharon Fekrat (Duke): Email, text, and telephone! So exciting!

R.V. Paul Chan/William F. Mieler (UIC): We call them immediately when we find out our match results. The applicant becomes part of our family at that point. It’s incredibly personal.

Dean Eliott (Mass Eye & Ear): I call them on match day. This year I called them from Singapore.

Anton Orlin (Cornell): I try to call the matched residents the morning we all find out the results. 

Prithvi Mruthyunjaya/Darius Moshfeghi (Stanford): We try to personally call first thing on Match Morning.

Arunan Sivalingam (Wills): Phone calls as soon as the match comes out, followed by an email to our faculty and the candidates.


Dr. Eliott and the Mass Eye & Ear fellows at the annual MEEI Vitrectomy Course

What are your favorite aspects of the fellowship match process?

Dean Eliott (Mass Eye & Ear): My favorite aspect is getting the opportunity to meet a group of outstanding people who will soon be my colleagues. Although it sounds cliché, these people are truly the future of our profession, and every year I come to the same conclusion: the future looks bright.

Sharon Fekrat (Duke): Getting to meet all of the highly accomplished applicants and learn about the wonderful work they have done!

Arunan Sivalingam (Wills): Meeting the candidates during cocktails and dinner.

Prithvi Mruthyunjaya/Darius Moshfeghi (Stanford): The opportunity to meet future colleagues and leaders in the field of retina at the very beginning of their journey. It is great to hear about each person’s individual stories and the roads they have taken to reach this elite level of accomplishment in their young careers. Sometimes it is more interesting to learn about their passions and hobbies than the last paper they wrote.

Wills Annual Conference
Drs. Sivalingam, Haller and Regillo with the Wills retina fellows at the annual meeting

 What aspects of the match process do you NOT enjoy?

Dean Eliott (Mass Eye & Ear): Unfortunately, you can’t get to know an applicant well due to the time constraints, and this is the worst part of the process. The applicants spend time, money and great effort to come to our interview day, and I wish we could get to know them better.

The application process is a lot like Winston Churchill’s description of democracy: it’s the worst system, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.

Arunan Sivalingam (Wills): Telling program directors that we cannot accommodate their candidate for the interview.

How can the match process be improved?

Arunan Sivalingam (Wills): Regionalize the interview process to decrease applicant travel expenses and time.

Christina Weng (Baylor): I wish there were a formal system where unmatched fellowship applicants were notified in advance of Match Day. Not only would this be beneficial to the applicants from an emotional standpoint, but it would also help them (as well as their residency program director, faculty, and any unmatched fellowship programs) prepare for the scramble process. I have proposed this to SF Match, and hope that they will consider this change.

Tarek Hassan (Beaumont): The match process is inherently difficult on applicants because of the travel and expense, particularly at an extremely busy time in their training, and of course, the stress. I think that grouping programs by regionalizing dates, times, and even locations in some cases, of fellowship interviews would be of help. We, with the help of ASRS and several leading programs, have begun a process to do that among a number of programs throughout the country. This may be tricky as some applicants will still want to physically visit potential programs but this may not be possible in every case.

It also seems helpful if we could consolidate the online application process even more such that only a central application exists within which all supporting documents are contained, including references.  As such, programs would be better able to identify applications with missing items and could help in their acquisition.

Dr. Chan and the University of Illinois fellows having a feast

Being a fellowship program director, you’re clearly invested in training the future of our field. What aspects of fellow training do you enjoy most?

R.V. Paul Chan/William F. Mieler (UIC): Training and mentoring the next generation of ophthalmologists and retina specialists is a major reason why so many of us stay in an academic environment (whether or not that’s in private practice or in a full time faculty position). Watching our fellows grow and succeed is one of the best parts of our lives.

Chirag Shah (OCB/Tufts): Being involved with fellow training is like raising kids every two years.  It is a warm, humbling feeling to witness the development and growth of very accomplished fellows as they mature into exceptional attendings.

Sharon Fekrat (Duke): Watching the first year fellows transform over a two-year period into highly skilled and confident surgeons!

Duke 2.jpeg
Dr. Fekrat and Duke faculty with current and former Duke fellows at the Michels Reception at AAO 2017

Arunan Sivalingam (Wills): Meeting with the fellows monthly out of the office for informal feedback as well as the opportunity to teach in the OR. I enjoy showing the fellows what it means to be part of the Wills family and to impress on them the importance of participation in annual meetings and conferences. I particularly enjoy seeing our fellows return for our annual J. Arch McNamara Lecture.

Dean Eliott (Mass Eye & Ear): I most enjoy getting to know these remarkable individuals who are brilliant, hard working, passionate and so dedicated to patient care. I feel very fortunate to interact with such talented colleagues on a daily basis, and watching them progress is extremely rewarding. In fact, the highlight of my career has been working with so many great trainees (residents and fellows).

Prithvi Mruthyunjaya/Darius Moshfeghi (Stanford): My number one joy is personally calling the applicants and offering them the interview slot. This is a dying tradition, and it catches most of the applicants by surprise to be speaking with the Director. I enjoy the back and forth pre-, during, and post- surgery, discussing the merits of various clinical approaches, and the one-on-one mentoring surrounding the future plans of a young vitreoretinal surgeon. It is also great to give them perspective on the giants of retina, who we might forget in our day to day clinics and surgery, who have been critical to innovation and elucidation of pathology and therapy—often they have no clue!

Christina Weng (Baylor): The absolute best part of training fellows is watching them grow as surgeons over the two-year period—especially in our field since most receive limited exposure to vitreoretinal surgery as residents. It’s incredibly rewarding to see someone evolve from fumbling with the BIOM foot pedals to performing complex retinal detachment repairs just 24 months later and know that you played a part in their development. Training fellows also forces you to constantly re-evaluate your own knowledge base, and there are many times when a fellow has asked me a question that propels me to go back and review a topic or technique. It’s true what they say about teaching being the best type of learning.

We sincerely thank the 15 program directors for their time and generosity in sharing their insights and experiences. We hope that this series of fellowship match articles will be useful for current and future retina fellowship applicants.