Career Roadmap for Fellows-in-Training
Congratulations on choosing rheumatology as a career! Your journey through fellowship is an important time in your life to develop the foundation for your future. We hope the following timeline, based on insights and guidance from academic leaders/investigators, practitioners, and fellows, is helpful in providing an overview for your career development process.
General Career Planning Information
Start thinking about your career early.
Ask yourself key questions: Do I want a career in private practice or academics? Do I see my primary role as a researcher, clinician, or educator? What tools and experiences do I need to achieve these goals? The sooner you know where you're headed, the sooner your department can help you to get there (or achieve your desired goals).
Be diligent in meeting with your program director and division chief each semester.
Take note that these two will have different interests and concerns. Your program director's role will help you to identify your individual interests and career development. Your division chief can help you to identify your interests in the context of the needs of the entire department.
Look for a mentor in your area of interest in research or clinical practice.
Sometimes, these may include mentors outside your department or even outside your institution. It can be helpful to identify multiple mentors for different roles: e.g.research mentor, clinical mentor, career advancement mentor.
Don't be limited by convention.
For example, if you have a research idea that hasn't been explored, talk with your program director/chief and ask them to direct you to the most appropriate person to see if your idea is plausible.
Don't be shy about asking for additional funding.
For example, if you are interested in clinical research and would like to obtain an additional degree in public health (or even take a few courses), ask your program director/chief if discretionary funds are available. If your research proposal is well-conceived and is compatible with the goals of the division, you may be rewarded.
Timeline by Training Year
Start looking through journals in the field (ACR journals, Nature Reviews Rheumatology, etc.) to identify your potential interests within rheumatology and get a sense of areas of active research within the field.
Consider doing an elective in orthopedics or physical medicine and rehabilitation or spend an afternoon or two with physical therapists. Rheumatology is an inter-disciplinary specialty. There are several fields with which we work/collaborate closely, so carve out time prior to your fellowship training to explore the roles of these disciplines in the care of patients with rheumatic disease.
Join the American College of Rheumatology. Benefits of membership include stipends to attend ACR Convergence, the ACR's annual meeting, and other meetings, as well as the potential to network with other fellows and faculty.
Check our FIT Resources page for announcements, updates, and award opportunities.
Consider applying for the ACR Fellow-in-Training Subcommittee (FSC). The FSC represents your voice within the ACR. The FIT subcommittee communicates the fellows’ perspective on ACR standing committees and influence decisions that directly impact rheumatology fellows in training. The mission is to enhance and improve fellowship training, encourage the matriculation of students and residents into the field of rheumatology, and improve the utilization of resources within the College. The ACR will send information to ACR FIT members during the FSC call for volunteers.
Attend local rheumatology meetings to network with physicians in academics, industry, and practice.
Take every opportunity to learn broadly about the field. Tailor your electives to your eventual career goals. Consider electives in physical medicine, radiology, orthopedics, sports medicine, hand clinic, podiatry, pulmonary, and/or renal clinics, which may prove invaluable for future private practice or forming your research interests.
Consider joining up with faculty in writing/publishing a review article or case report. This may be an opportunity to learn more about your area of interest, and provide insight to your compatibility with that faculty member as a future mentor.
Early in the year, meet with different faculty members in your department to hear about their research careers (e.g., clinical, translational, basic). Start to narrow down your interests and identify potential mentors/researchers within the first six months. Former fellows or senior fellows may have specific insight into who may best assist you in getting started.
Before meeting with your mentor, read about his/her body of research/interests and ask other FITs about their experiences with this mentor. Make sure that in addition to expertise in their field, your potential mentor also has adequate time and interest to be a successful mentor. Establish mentor/mentee guidelines.
Consider a Masters or PhD program. Talk with your program director about the details and timelines for your institution.
Year 2 (or Year 2 and 3 for Pediatric Fellows)
Look for Job Opportunities
It’s never too early to begin looking for job opportunities. By the beginning of your last year of training, you should be pursuing career opportunities. Take advantage of all the resources and opportunities available: networking at meetings, program director contacts, local medical societies, ACR CareerConnection, and the ACR Career Fair.
The ACR CareerConnection is a free online job board for people searching for opportunities in the field of rheumatology. Benefits include personalized website, job alert notifications, and resume builder.
The ACR Career Fair, held in conjunction with ACR Convergence, the ACR’s annual meeting, is an extension of ACR CareerConnection. For job seekers, the Career Fair provides the opportunity to meet with employers and recruiters, check out open positions in rheumatology across the country and network with other rheumatology professionals.
Academic Medicine Track
- Your research plan should be in place by now. This resource from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases can help you get started on your research plan: Write Your Research Plan.
- If your research project will take longer than a year to finish, consider a smaller secondary project that may give you results (e.g., abstract, poster submission, small manuscript) in the meantime.
- Sit down with your mentor and discuss future funding issues. Be aware of grant deadlines, which are often in the early fall (August/September). It can take one to three months to write a complete grant.
- Keep an eye out for potential grant opportunities. See opportunities on our Education Awards and Scholarships page.
- Watch for seminars and other opportunities offered by your institution for grant writing courses or trainee workshops that may help in your career development. Opportunities for careers in industry are also available as options to explore.
If you are interested in a career as a clinician educator, contact the medical school or medicine residents (if applicable) to see if you can give an informal talk on a topic of mutual interest. Not only will this exercise allow you to hone your teaching skills, but your colleagues will appreciate your enthusiasm.
- Find an opportunity to shadow and be a part of the private practice/clinical setting. It is important to have the experience rather than only speaking to a private practitioner/clinician on a theoretical level. Being able to experience practices first-hand will help you to decide if this might be the path for you.
- Explore different types of practice settings (e.g., solo, single specialty group, multispecialty group). If you are interested in practicing in a specific geographic area, visit practices and make local contacts early.
- Consider getting certified in reading bone densitometry and ultrasound.
- Explore job/career fairs offered locally by your institution.
Optional Year 3 & Beyond
The option may exist to continue with fellowship through a third year and beyond if you can secure funding through your department or external grants.
This year should focus on continued development of projects, solidifying your research career goals, and applying for additional funding, such as career development grants. It is important to discuss with your program director and mentor the goals and plan for this extra year of training to ensure financial support of your efforts.
Use additional time to explore job opportunities both within and outside your institution.