Interview Tips

By Catherine P. Benziger MD, Benjamin B. Kenigsberg MD

According to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), there are more cardiology applicants each year than there are cardiology fellowship positions. Specifically in 2014, there were about 1.5 applicants per position, 99.6% of offered fellowship positions were filled during the match and over 25% of applicants did not match into cardiology at all . Many large academic programs will receive 300-500 applications and only interview 50-100 applicants for 5-10 spots. While this sounds intimidating, US allopathic medical graduates have a 91% matched rate. However, the match rate is lower, around 50%, for foreign medical graduates, osteopathic graduates and Americans who attended international medical schools . So what does all this mean? The cardiology fellowship application is competitive but you can certainly match into a position you want and we've outline tips to help.

Make sure this is what you want to do

Make sure this is what you want to do

Make sure this is what you want to do This may seem a simple and even a silly question, but the most important part of the application process is self-reflection. Are you sure you want to be a cardiologist? Pay attention to the daily practice patterns of attending cardiologists at your hospitals. Additionally make sure to seek out exposure to the outpatient setting, such as in general cardiology, hypertension, or lipid clinics. Cardiology fellowship is either three or four years. But more importantly, this is potentially what you will be doing on a daily basis for the next 30 to 40 years.

Identify a good mentor

Identify a good mentor

Identifying good mentors is arguably the most important part of the process. Finding good mentors is like online dating, you need to meet a number of different people and keep an open mind without grandiose expectations. Mentoring should be mutually beneficial for the mentor and mentee and it is ok to have more than one mentor. Your mentors do not all have to be cardiologists, but identifying at least one or two cardiologists is helpful since you will need opportunities for cardiology research and letters of recommendation. Mentors do not need to be senior faculty as the quality of your relationship with your mentor is much more important.

Demonstrate research or scholarly interest

Demonstrate research or scholarly interest

Whether you have interest in basic science or clinical research, or quality improvement or epidemiology, participating in scholarly activity is a must when applying for cardiology fellowship. Residency is a busy time and often it is difficult to complete a comprehensive project or write a grant given the limited time for research. Pick a project that has data but needs someone to put it together and write it up. While the paper might not get published in time for your application, it is relatively easy to submit an abstract of your work or an interesting case vignette at a local conference, such as the chapter meetings of the American College of Cardiology or American College of Physicians or a national conference.

Use your personal statement to answer the question, Tell me about yourself and who you want to be

Use your personal statement to answer the question, "Tell me about yourself and who you want to be"

Be brief and direct. Identify what aspect of cardiology interests you the most. Your subspecialty interest may certainly change during fellowship, but identifying your career goals helps program directors make sure the right faculty are available to interview you. Consider writing a personal statement that is tailored for each individual program and, if so, identify particular faculty with whom you would want to work. Consider choosing programs that have advanced fellowship positions in your sub-specialty interest. Most advanced fellows stay at the same institution for sub-specialty training, such as electrophysiology, heart failure or interventional.

Plan time to fill out your application

Plan time to fill out your application

In NRMP you are applying for cardiovascular diseases. The process is similar to your residency application and requires information about your prior education, training, research, activities, and a personal statement. Include activities and leadership positions from medical school and residency. Do not include undergraduate experiences unless they were relevant to your current interests. You will need three to four letters of recommendation, which must include one from your residency program director. Prioritize asking for letters from faculty who know you well (see choosing good mentors above) but keep in mind that a letter from a personally or nationally known cardiologist will likely carry additional weight. Be sure to give at least several weeks' notice before the letter is due. The less important parts of the application include performance on the board exam, USMLE scores, and US citizenship. Be sure to print a draft of your application and proofread it, twice, and then ask someone else to proofread it.

Be prepared for interview day (see Table 1)

Be prepared for interview day (see Table 1)

Most programs invite applicants to interview on specific days in September, October and November. Some have days dedicated to those interested in electrophysiology, heart failure, research, etc. so that the faculty in those areas can interview all the candidates with those interests. It is important to respond quickly to invitations for an interview and to be gracious and courteous to everyone you meet, especially the program assistants. Appear confident and professional and try to be well rested. If a dinner is offered, make every effort to go and meet the current fellows and ask thoughtful questions. You will spend a lot of time with your co-fellows and you want to make sure you will get along. Be sure to R.S.V.P. for the dinner and cancel if you cannot make it. The actual interviews are short, often only 30 minutes with 2-3 different faculty. Be prepared to answer common questions, such as "What are your career goals?" "How can this program help you meet those goals/what are you looking for?" and "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Remember to have at least three questions to ask the interviewer. The most important part of the interview day is for you to decide if that particular program is a good fit for you. Ultimately, the decision depends on what's best for your career aspirations, family and geography.

Send thank you notes

Send thank you notes

Within one week, send either typed or hand-written notes to the program director (and administrative assistants), as well as the faculty who interviewed you. Be specific about what makes them and you a great match. Mention something unique about yourself that came up from each interview and be honest about your interest in their program.

Special considerations: women in cardiology

Special considerations: women in cardiology

There are more women in cardiology now than in the past but women are only 18% of cardiology fellows, 10-15% of practicing cardiologist and 4% of interventional cardiologists. For female applicants, it is important to consider the following factors when deciding which programs you want to rank: How many women are on faculty and do they serve in leading roles? Are there other women trainees? What is the call schedule like? Is the call in-house? Is it front-loaded or dispersed equally throughout the three to four years? What are the maternity leave policies? In general, time off policies vary by program but are usually less flexible than residency programs. Will your total fellowship time get extended? If so, will this affect pursuing further sub-specialty training? Will time off conflict with other important rotations?

The NRMP Match Day is in early December and is an exciting time. Be sure to rank all of the places you interviewed at and are willing to go to if accepted. At least 75% of positions must be made with the NRMP but this leaves up to 25% of positions available to be filled outside of the match so there may be options if you do not match.

Quick Tips for a Successful Fellowship Interview Day


1 Results and Data. National Resident Matching Program. http://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Results-and-Data-SMS-2015.pdf. February 2015. Accessed July 2015.

2 Charting Outcomes in the Match Specialties Matching Service®, Appointment Year 2011. National Resident Matching Program. http://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/chartingoutcomessms2011.pdf May 2013. Accessed July 2015.

3 Pomerantz R. Applying for a sub-specialty fellowship: some tips and advice from a former program director. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. 2011; 1(3): 10.3402/jchimp.v1i3.8087

4 Poppas A, Cummings J, Dorbala S, Douglas PS, Foster E, Limacher MC. Survey results: a decade of change in professional life in cardiology: a 2008 report of the ACC women in cardiology council. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Dec 16;52(25):2215-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2008.09.008.

5 Kohli P. Where Are the Women in Cardiology? ACC in Touch Blog. American College of Cardiology. May 20, 2013. http://blog.acc.org/post/women-in-cardiology/ Accessed August 2015

6 Wang TY, Grines C, Ortega R, et al. Women in interventional cardiology: Update in percutaneous coronary intervention practice patterns and outcomes of female operators from the National Cardiovascular Data Registry®. Catheter Cardiovasc Interv. 2015 Aug 10. doi: 10.1002/ccd.26118

7 Sobolev M. What Should Women Look For When Choosing a Cardiology Fellowship? ACC in Touch Blog. American College of Cardiology. November 13, 2014. http://blog.acc.org/post/women-look-choosing-cardiology-fellowship/ Accessed August 2015