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What is a Fellow in Medicine?

Posted by Callie Torres
November 15, 2023

What is a fellow? A fellow is a doctor who has finished medical school and residency and has chosen to further study a subspecialty in medicine. Fellowships are approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and usually last one to three years. Not all physicians will complete fellowship as it is optional for physicians to advance their training. In order to qualify for a fellowship, physicians must finish a residency program in their chosen specialty following graduation from medical school. Depending on the specialty, residency programs may last three to seven years while medical school lasts four years. A doctor is board-eligible to practice medicine in their specialty after completing their residency.

Here are some examples of medical fellowships:

  • Cardiology fellowship
  • Gastroenterology fellowship
  • Endocrinology fellowship
  • Infectious diseases fellowship
  • Hematology and Oncology fellowship
  • Pediatric fellowship
  • Pulmonary fellowship
  • Rheumatology fellowship
  • Urology fellowship

Fellowships are highly competitive and physicians must apply to and be accepted before they can begin their training. After completing a fellowship and taking board examinations, physicians are board-certified in their subspecialty.

Quick Navigation Links + FAQs

  1. What does a medical fellow do? 
  2. How to become a medical fellow?
  3. Resident vs fellow - What's the difference?
  4. How long is fellowship?
  5. How much money do fellows make?
  6. Attending physician vs fellow - What's the difference?
  7. What is after fellowship?
  8. Is PhD the same as fellow?
  9. Why do a fellowship?
  10. Board certified vs fellowship trained - What is the difference?
  11. Is fellowship considered medical education?
  12. Fellowship without residency?
  13. Getting started in medicine

What does a medical fellow do?

Having finished medical school and their residency, medical fellows are fully qualified physicians who have chosen to undergo additional training in a subspecialty of medicine. Depending on the specialization, fellowships can span one to three years. Medical fellows collaborate closely with seasoned doctors throughout their fellowship to acquire specialized knowledge and abilities in the medical area of their choice. In addition to clinical responsibilities, many fellows may choose to conduct research and teach residents and medical students.

The duties that a fellow may have vary greatly depending on which subspecialty of medicine they are choosing to study. However, the following are some general duties that a fellow in medicine may carry out:

  • See patients in clinic or the hospital
  • Diagnose and treat diseases and conditions
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Perform procedures
  • Prescribe medications
  • Counsel patients and their families

An example of some more specific duties that a fellow in cardiology may perform includes performing cardiac catheterizations and other procedures. A gastroenterologist fellow may work in a clinic, seeing patients with digestive problems. A fellow in pediatric oncology may work in a research institution, developing new treatments for childhood cancer.

Medical fellowships are a valuable opportunity for physicians to gain specialized knowledge and skills in their chosen field. Fellows play an essential role in the healthcare system, providing care to patients with complex medical conditions while working to learn and advance their medical training.

How to become a Fellow in Medicine?

To become a fellow in medicine, one must first complete the following steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. The specific major one chooses in university is less important than maintaining a high GPA and taking the required science courses for matriculation into medical school.
  2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a standardized test that assesses applicants problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of science and medicine.
  3. Apply to and be accepted into a medical school. Medical school is a four-year program that teaches medical students the basics of medicine. During this time medical students will spend two years in the classroom and two years in the hospital.
  4. Match into a residency program. Residency is a three to seven year program where physicians gain supervised experience in a chosen medical specialty.
  5. Apply to and be accepted into a fellowship program. Fellowships are one to three years in length and provide physicians with specialized training in an even more focused area of medicine.

Fellowship programs are highly competitive, so it is essential to have a solid academic record, residency training, and letters of recommendation. Here are some additional tips for becoming a fellow in medicine:

  • Choose a specialty that you are passionate about. Fellowship training can be demanding, so it is essential to choose a specialty that you are excited about and willing to work hard to master.
  • Network with other physicians and researchers in your field. Attending conferences and meetings is a great way to meet other physicians and researchers in your field and learn about fellowship opportunities.
  • Get involved in research. Research experience can make you a more competitive applicant for fellowship programs. You can get involved in research during your medical school and residency training.
  • Publish your work. Publishing your research in peer-reviewed journals can make you a more competitive applicant for fellowship programs.
  • Get strong letters of recommendation. Ask your mentors, residency program director, and other physicians who know you well to write letters of recommendation.

Becoming a fellow in medicine is a challenging but rewarding process. By following the steps above, you can increase your chances of success.


Medical fellow vs resident - What's the difference?

Following medical school, physicians undergo additional training as residents and possibly fellows in medicine. There are several key differences between a resident and fellow, most notable of which is their level of training.

Physicians who have recently completed medical school and are undergoing residency are known as residents. Depending on the specialty, residency programs may last three to seven years. A doctor is board-eligible to practice medicine in their specialty after completing their residency.

After residency, medical fellows seek further training in a medical subspecialty. For instance, after finishing an internal medicine residency, a doctor might decide to undertake a fellowship in either gastrointestinal or cardiology. Fellowships are approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and usually last one to three years.

How long is a fellowship in medicine?

Depending on the expertise, a medical fellowship can last one to three years. The length of training may also differ depending on the program type. The following are some examples of common fellowship durations in various specialties:

  • Sports Medicine: 1 year
  • Cardiology: 3 years
  • Endocrinology: 2 years
  • Gastroenterology: 3 years
  • Hematology: 2 years
  • Infectious Disease: 2 years
  • Nephrology: 2 years
  • Pulmonology: 2-3 years
  • Rheumatology: 2 years
  • Allergy and Immunology: 2 years


An exact fellowship’s duration may vary depending on the program. For example, specific fellowships may extend their duration by offering further training in a specialized sector or adding years of research. Researching the different programs available and contacting program directors to learn more about the specifics of the fellowship are essential steps if you wish to pursue a medical fellowship.

What is a Medical Fellowship salary?

In the US, a medical fellow typically makes between $60,000 and $70,000 annually. Nevertheless, a fellow’s exact pay will differ according to several criteria, such as:

  • Geographical location: Fellows typically make more money working in pricey areas like New York City and San Francisco than in more cheap ones.
  • Year in training: Fellows who have been in training longer tend to get paid more than those who have been in it for a shorter amount of time.

Medical Fellow vs Attending - What is the difference?

An attending physician and a medical fellow are primarily distinguished by the fact that the former has completely finished their medical education and is licensed to practice independently. Conversely, a medical fellow is still in training and needs to be supervised by an attending physician. Medical fellows complete a residency program in their selected specialty and then seek further training in a subspecialty. A doctor who has finished an internal medicine residency, for instance, might seek a fellowship in hematology oncology or rheumatology. Patients’ care and treatment are the responsibility of attending physicians who oversee fellows as they practice medicine. 

What comes after a fellowship in medicine?

Following their completion of a medical fellowship, there are several different choices physicians can make that would allow them to customize how they would like to work. Some options include:

  • Work in a hospital or clinic. Most, if not all, physicians following fellowship will work in either a hospital or clinic setting. While their job duties will vary greatly depending on their subspecialty, many fellows will spend their career in one of these two settings.
  • Work in Academia. Some doctors decide to work in academic settings where they can educate residents and medical students, conduct research, and publish medical research articles.
  • Launch a private practice businesses. Some physicians may decide to launch their own companies, termed private practices. This requires knowledge of creating and running a business in addition to the standard medical knowledge.
  • Engage in public health work. Some doctors pursue careers in public health, where they may create and carry out initiatives to enhance community health and well being.
  • Work in the pharmaceutical industry. Some doctors may opt to work in the pharmaceutical sector, where they may create and evaluate novel medications and therapies.

Depending on their interests and objectives, doctors have different choices after fellowship. For example, after completing a fellowship in electrophysiology, a cardiologist may choose to launch a private practice focused on electrophysiology or become an attending physician and work in academics. Another example is after completing a fellowship in advanced endoscopy, a gastroenterologist has the option of joining a research organization to create new endoscopic procedures or becoming an attending physician in the field.


Is fellow equivalent to PhD?

No, earning a PhD and completing a fellowship are not equivalent. After completing a demanding course of study and research in a university setting, a doctorate, or PhD, is granted. PhD training may be completed in one many fields including science, literature, religion, etc.  A fellowship, on the other hand, is a type of post-doctoral training program that gives physicians specialized instruction in a particular field. Fellowships and PhDs involve advanced training, but their aims and purposes are distinct. The purpose of a PhD program is to train students for research careers, whereas the goal of a fellowship program is to prepare doctors for careers in specialized medical practice.

Why become a fellow?

There are many reasons why physicians choose to become fellows and advance their medical knowledge. Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • To gain specialized skills and expertise in the medical industry. Through fellowships, physicians can sharpen their abilities and stay current on the latest advancements in their industry, which is essential for managing complex patient cases.
  • To increase their likelihood of landing a job. Fellowship trained physicians are in high demand for employment by hospitals and other healthcare facilities. When searching for positions, doctors who have completed a fellowship may have a significant advantage.
  • Help enhance their ability to conduct research. One standard qualification for fellowships is research experience. Completing a fellowship can provide medical professionals the opportunity to improve their research skills and broaden their areas of competence.

Fellowship trained vs board certified - What is the difference?

A doctor who has completed extra training in a subspecialty of medicine following residency training is said to be fellowship trained. Fellowships are approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and usually last one to three years. On the other hand, a doctor who has earned a board certification has successfully completed an exam given by a specialist board that has been accredited by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). In certain areas, like surgery and internal medicine, a physician must hold board certification in order to practice.

Doctors may have both board certification and fellowship training. For instance, a doctor who has finished an internal medicine residency program might decide to undertake a cardiac fellowship. Following fellowship completion, the doctor would receive board certification in cardiology after passing exams. It is crucial to remember that not all doctors with fellowship training hold a board certification. For instance, a physician may decide to seek a fellowship in a subspecialty that the specialty board has not yet approved.

Is a fellowship considered medical education for doctors after medical school?

Yes, a fellowship is regarded as part of a doctor’s medical education. Fellowships offer doctors specialized training in a subspecialty of medicine and are approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Usually lasting one to three years, fellowships combine clinical training with research and teaching. Fellows obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to become independent practitioners by closely collaborating with seasoned medical professionals. Physicians can sit for board certification tests in their specialization after completing a fellowship, although not all fellowships have board examinations. Physicians who wish to practice in certain subspecialties, like neurosurgery and cardiology, must get a board certification in order to practice.



Can you do fellowship without medical residency?

No, one cannot complete a fellowship without residency. Fellowships are postgraduate training programs for doctors who have finished residency and medical school. One must have finished a recognized medical residency program in the US or Canada to be eligible for a fellowship. Specific fellowships may have extra requirements, including a United States Medical Licensing Examination score or research experience. To find out more about the particular requirements of the fellowship programs you are interested in, get in touch with the program director or coordinator.

Getting started in Medicine

Now that you know more about medical fellows and the hierarchy of medical school, residency and fellowships, you may want to start your journey into medicine by getting accepted into a great medical school like The University of Medicine and Health Sciences (UMHS).

To apply, please get started on this page: Apply  For more information, please check out our Caribbean medical school overview page. For questions, please contact one of our admissions officers.

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Posted by Callie Torres

Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a chief resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications

Topics: Feature Medical Practice

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