Dermpath is considered by some to be the Holy Grail of pathology fellowships. Many residents lose hope and feel that it is too competitive and thus impossible to get a dermpath fellowship. Not true! You don't have to have 20 publications to get a fellowship. It is competitive but certainly not impossible. Getting a spot has a LOT to do with timing and random events that are out of your control. But you can do certain things that may increase your chances of getting that fellowship. In my opinion, one of the most important things is to demonstrate a true passion for dermpath and to have persistence in pursuing a dermpath fellowship (even if it takes a couple of attempts!). Listed below are my thoughts about how to become a competitive dermatopathology fellowship applicant. This page represents my opinions. Other program directors may have different views, and I may change my views over time. These caveats aside, I hope this page is useful in your quest for a career in dermatopathology.

Best of luck!

Jerad M Gardner, MD

Which programs have dermpath fellowships?

Check out the Dermatopathology Fellowship Directory

I am thinking of applying for dermpath. Is it really as tough as people say? What do they look for in fellowship applicants?

Is it very competitive? Yes. Is it impossible? No. There are a lot of people applying for DP, but I don't think there is quite as much competition as everyone thinks. There are approximately 50 programs training and the best training programs get around 100 applicants, often for a single spot. This sounds pretty bleak, but it needs to be remembered that most candidates apply widely and many apply to every program, which makes the odds of securing a fellowship appear much better. On the other hand, there are many candidates who only apply to a single program (their home program) since they are promised a spot by the fellowship program director, often years in advance. Certainly at least 10% and (probably a much higher percentage) of fellowship spots for 2012 have gone to internal candidates.

What are dermpath programs looking for in an applicant?

1. Someone who truly loves dermpath. So show that you really like it. One way is to write some derm-related papers and do research. Another way is to attend dermpath meetings, go out of your way to go to dermpath lectures at your program, go to dermatology grand rounds when you can, etc. I did this from second year of residency, attending every local derm or dermpath thing that I could fit into my schedule, even when I was on other rotations. It took some extra time, but it was actually really fun and I learned a lot of dermpath by doing it. Plus, the dermpath faculty at the local programs all got to know me and realized that I was truly (and persistently) passionate about dermpath. Someone who loves derm will likely be more fun to work with and will be successful in their career (which in turn makes the fellowship program look good).

2. Someone who is enjoyable to work with. A great way to show that you are a team player and easy going is to do an away elective at a program you are interested in. Unfortunately, some residency programs don't allow away electives, which is unfortunate, as it really puts their residents at a disadvantage for fellowships, in my opinion. If you can't get an away elective, you could always take a few vacation days and go visit the program as an observer. This takes time and money, but if you really want to do dermpath, then I feel that it is worth it. Visiting a program might at least get you an interview there. Getting your foot in the door at a program is one of the hardest parts.

3. Someone who is organized and responsible. Enhance your organizational skills. Find ways to highlight your skills in your personal statement, application, and/or during the interview process (using real examples from residency). When doing a dermpath rotation, arrive early and stay late, do whatever you can to help organize the service and be useful to the faculty members. A fellow's job is to learn dermpath first and foremost, but a fellow also helps the dermpath service run smoothly by keeping track of pending cases, calling dermatologists, obtaining outside blocks or slides, searching the literature, etc.

Tips for Getting a Dermpath Fellowship

Here are some ideas that can really help you out as you pursue dermpath.

  • Getting started early is the best plan. Even if you change your mind later, nothing lost. But waiting to get involved is hard to come back from in many cases.
  • Doing dermpath elective early in second year is great timing. It gives you a chance to decide early if you really like dermpath or not. If you have time to do a second elective later, Fall of 3rd year is probably best, as it is right before/during application season and the program will remember you better, ideally. Also, try to do your dermpath external electives (if possible) at a program that has a fellowship you are interested in. In this way, the month long rotation serves as a sort of interview for you and gives you a chance to shine. (Also, check out our page of helpful dermatology mnemonics and study phrases.)
  • Go to the ASDP meeting every year, if possible ( Submit an abstract (case report) for the Duel in Dermpath, an oral platform case presentation competition by residents. This is the place to meet people. Deadline for abstracts is mid-May, usually. They accept most things submitted, and also take case reports. If accepted for the Duel, you get to give an oral presentation...many program directors are in the crowd and it is a great chance to stand out. Otherwise, if not accepted for the Duel, you can be accepted for a poster. If having trouble finding a case, go and ask the dermpath fellow. They will usually be helpful (most that I have known were very helpful). Or, even better, approach the fellowship director. It is a great way to show initiative. If you go to ASDP, try to attend the Friday evening President costs about $180 but is a great networking event. Most of the high level leaders in dermatopathology attend the Banquet, and you may have the chance to have dinner with a program director or a famous expert in dermpath. From a networking perspective, it is an excellent investment. It often sells out early, so buy tickets as early as you can.
  • If you can go to ISDP ( meeting in addition to ASDP, it is highly recommended. Great meeting that is a bit smaller than ASDP and gives easier access to meet and get to know program directors and faculty.
  • Meet the dermpath people at your program as early as possible, including the faculty and fellows. Try your best to attend their consensus conferences, lectures, tumor boards, derm resident reviews, anything and everything derm related. You may have to do this in your free time or work it into your schedule between other residency duties, but it is WELL worth it and goes a LONG way in showing your involvement, interest, and commitment.
  • Meet as many dermpath people as you can. Add them to Linked In, Twitter, and/or Facebook (if you have a personal Facebook but don't want to add faculty to it, then make a second professional Facebook page). Get to know dermpath fellows and dermpath-interested residents; they can introduce you to others at the meetings.
  • Use social media to interact with other dermpaths, to post and comment on dermpath cases. More and more fellowship programs and fellowship directors are getting on Twitter. I have heard of program directors taking social media experience into account when evaluating fellowship applicants. Many programs do not yet have Facebook and Twitter accounts for their program, but they are interested in having these. If you as an applicant have experience using social media professionally, you can offer to help create and administrate official social media accounts for the dermpath fellowship program. That is a nice added value you can bring to a program as an applicant! My Social Media Guide for Pathologists has in depth info about how to setup and use professional social media accounts.

What does an "average" dermpath fellowship applicant look like?

Many applicants ask "how many papers do I need to publish to get a dermpath fellowship" or similar questions. I asked the same questions when I was a resident interested in applying for dermpath. We set out to answer these questions in a more quantifiable manner. We collected applicant stats over 5 years in our dermpath fellowship at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and then analyzed the results.

See our full paper for details:


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