Residency & Fellowship
By now you've heard the term "residency and fellowship programs" or a variation of that. But if someone were to ask you right now what a program like that is or what it entails, would you be able to tell them? In this 3-part series we'll go over the basics of what residency and fellowship programs are, why to choose 1 over the other, and how to choose the right program for you.
Let's start with the basics: what is a residency or fellowship program?
The American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE) defines a residency as a postprofessional program that one can participate in after graduation, once they obtain their physical therapy licensure. Geared more toward new graduates and new professionals, residency programs can be clinical or nonclinical based, with a focus on advancing knowledge or skills within a specific specialty area of practice. Residency programs cover all of the description of specialty practice (DSP) areas, and prepare individuals for the specialty certification exam.
ABPTRFE defines a fellowship as a postprofessional program that follows many of the same admission requirements as the residency programs, including that one must have graduated and obtained one's license. Fellowships do require that an individual demonstrate clinical expertise, are postresidency, or that the individual is board certified prior to taking part in a fellowship program. These programs look to advance one's knowledge and skillset in clinical and nonclinical settings, although these programs are intended for the more seasoned professional looking to advance in a subspecialty area of practice.
Residency and fellowship programs are also different in that a residency program is completed in 1,500 hours and can range from 9-36 months in duration, while fellowship programs are 1,000 hours and can range 6-36 months in total.
You might be asking, what's the difference between my clinical internship vs residency and fellowship programs? Your clinical internship is a clinical education experience and is part of the requirement to graduate from your physical therapy program. A residency or fellowship program is an optional postprofessional program that you choose to complete postgraduation, and after you obtain your physical therapy licensure.
Now that we've established what residency and fellowship programs are, you might be thinking why bother? You just finished 3 strenuous years of school, your curriculum was based on the most up-to-date evidence and techniques, and you're ready to start your professional career. We get it. But we also know that when you complete a residency or fellowship program, you gain mentorship vs trial and error, you are practicing under a watchful and experienced eye, you form a network of peers and colleagues, and your chances of passing a specialist certification exam the first time is 20%-40% higher than those colleagues who sat for the exam after foregoing a residency program.
It should be noted that not all residency and fellowship programs follow the same model. For example, some programs are sponsored by academic entities, some are sponsored by clinics, and some are a hybrid of the 2 programs.
While the choice of pursuing a residency or fellowship program is yours, the benefits are tangible, through the confidence you gain as a professional, the people and mentors you meet, and in your increased expertise in patient care.
In part 2 of this series we'll explore why and when to choose a residency or fellowship program and we'll hear from members who pursued 1 path or the other.
To learn more about residency and fellowship programs visit the ABPTRFE website.