“Postgraduate education for physician assistants has definitely been expanding as more and more PAs are going into specialty fields that traditionally require additional training,” says Tiffany Patterson, MS, PA-C, director of midlevel education at Baylor College of Medicine’s Ben Taub Emergency Center.

Fellowship training depends heavily on the PA’s chosen specialty, and therefore it is important to choose accordingly. “A surgical specialty postgraduate training program should provide significant opportunities for procedural and surgical skill development,” Patterson said. “In emergency medicine, our didactic component is based on the core curriculum for emergency medicine. Our clinical component is comprised of direct patient care experiences, as well as procedure and skills labs essential to our specialty.”

She recommends PAs consider the following checklist when applying for fellowships:

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  • Are there both advanced clinical and educational training opportunities?
  • Are the physician and PA faculty experts in the specialty? Or does the program have board certified supervising physicians with significant clinical experience or advanced training?
  • Is the supervising physician faculty significantly involved?
  • Does the program offer a stipend to compensate for clinical time if the graduate PA is involved in providing medical services?
  • Are there opportunities to take on significant duties or leadership roles?

The faculty of fellowship programs at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and the Mayo Clinic Arizona warn that PA fellowships are not for everyone. They advise that possessing the following characteristics can predict success in a given program: a GPA of 3.4 or higher, Master’s level education, a tendency to go above and beyond on projects and assignments, and involvement in both academic and philanthropic environments.

Other things that can help your application include outstanding letters of recommendations, specifically those that comment on your maturity, professionalism, intellectual ability, motivation, ability to work with other and personal integrity; NCCPA board certification; and certification in advanced cardiac life support or basic life support.

Although certainly not essential, postgraduate programs are yet another means of entry and advancement into specialty fields of medicine for PAs,” Patterson says. She added that amassing a portfolio of activities relating to your chosen specialty, and pursuing scholarly endeavours, such as having your work published on a poster or in a journal, can also help.

Nurse Practitioner fellowships

 “There aren’t very many NP fellowships. You can probably count them on one hand,” said Julie Stanik-Hutt, PhD, ACNP-BC, FAAN, director of the Master’s program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine. “Typically NPs don’t need them. When they graduate, they are expected to be competent and ready to practice.”

Her school is one of the few institutions that offer an NP fellowship program. The program, now in its third set of fellows, focuses on gastroenterology. The faculty started the program several years ago in response to an impending shortage of physician gastroenterologists, Stanik-Hutt says.

She offered the following criteria to help evaluate NP fellowships:

  • Look for a program with a faculty made up of equal parts NP and physician that are experts in providing the type of care in which you are interested.
  • Expect to receive the same kind of training that the physician fellows receive, including exposure to the same types of patients, and the same performance feedback.
  • Make sure the fellowship offers challenges to demonstrate your competencies.

It is important for prospective NP fellows also consider how they will be evaluated when seeking out fellowship opportunities, the cost of training, and whether going into practice is more financially sensible.

Susan Schooleman is a freelance medical writer living in the greater Denver, Colo., area.