Preparing for the AHA Predoctoral Fellowship Application

In the second year of my Ph.D., I began applying for predoctoral fellowships. There are only a limited number of fellowship programs that I am eligible for as an international student, as I was ineligible for most federally funded research fellowships. My advisor suggested that I apply to the American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship, which is open to any full-time student enrolled in a doctoral degree program (Ph.D., MD, DO, DVM, PharmD, DDS, DrPH, PhD in nursing or equivalent health science doctoral degrees) without any restriction on residence or citizenship. The AHA predoctoral fellowship awards one or two years of NIH-rate predoctoral fellow stipend, funds for health insurance, and an additional $2,000 for project support.

In addition to being a great opportunity to obtain funding support for my research, applying for predoctoral fellowships also helped me polish my grantsmanship and clarify my research directions.  In my fourth year, I was awarded a two-year AHA predoctoral fellowship. Here are some of my tips for preparing for the AHA Predoctoral Fellowship:

  1. Enroll in a grant writing course in your program if your institution has one. Before applying for predoctoral fellowships, I took the grant writing course that was taught by one of the professors in my department. In the course, I was able to obtain feedback on my research grant, not only from experienced professors but also from my peers. Since I had limited experience in grant writing, taking an organized course really helped me navigate the process and build a solid draft. In addition, this experience gave me an opportunity to think deeply and incorporate others’ feedback on my research directions.
  2. Connect with individuals who can write you a stellar recommendation. The AHA predoctoral fellowship application requires three letters of reference, but the proposal sponsor (likely your principal advisor), co-sponsor, collaborator, or consultant cannot serve as a referent. Therefore, you will likely have to reach out to other faculty members, previous research mentors, or other individuals. Staying in touch with these individuals is a great way to ensure their support of your application.
  3. Think of how to convey your research to a broad audience. One of my favorite aspects of the AHA application is thinking about how my work could achieve AHA’s mission to achieve a world of longer, healthier lives. To communicate the value of my research, I wrote a non-scientist summary of my project and outline how my work supports AHA’s mission in my proposal. In fact, this summary to a non-scientist audience is one of the key peer review criteria of the award. Attending courses and workshops on science communication really helped me clarify my writing and avoid scientific jargons.
  4. Update your resume. Like other predoctoral fellowship applications, you will have to document your academic record as well as your prior research experience and/or publications. Don’t forget to update your resume from time to time to make sure you are presenting the best version of yourself.
  5. Don’t give up. I missed the funding mark in my first AHA fellowship application and was only awarded after resubmission. The reviewers’ comments on my first application, which I addressed in my resubmitted application, improved my proposal and research directions in general. Needless to say, resilience is a necessary quality in research!

The deadline for the 2023 AHA predoctoral fellowship is Wednesday, September 7, 2022. Mark your calendar and don’t miss this excellent opportunity!

“The views, opinions, and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness, and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke, or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Residency and Fellowship Interviews During COVID-19

As early-career physicians started residency and many physicians began fellowship training this month, it’s hard to think that recruitment for next year’s residency and fellowship classes is beginning soon. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many of our usual routines and processes. Similarly, this year’s residency and fellowship interviews are going to be different than previous year’s interviews. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has now recommended that all interviews for medical school, residency, and fellowship be conducted virtually this year.

There are many potential benefits of virtual interviews, including but not limited to:

  • Lowering the financial burden of traveling and housing during interviews.
  • Not having to spend time traveling and potentially being able to interview at more programs without physical distance complicating scheduling. For example, one can interview at a West Coast program one day and interview at an East Coast program the same or following day.
  • Missing fewer days of work/school/rotations for interviews.
  • Not having to frequently pack and unpack and worry that you forgot to pack something important.
  • Not having to tour a campus during the winter months (especially in heels) or drive in the snow.
  • Sleeping in your own bed before an interview.

For those of you who will be interviewing virtually for residency and fellowship programs this year, I have gathered some advice from my Cardiology fellowship program director (@rhythmkeys) and program coordinators (@UmnCardsfellow). Of course, also ask your mentors and other colleagues for advice. Remember that this is a new experience for both you and the programs so there may be some road bumps and steep learning curves.

  • Be open-minded. Fight the urge to stay at the same training institution because of unfamiliarity with a new city and/or program.
  • Spend time researching the programs and cities that you are interested in. Many programs (including ours) will have virtual tours/videos of our facilities and city. Take advantage of the publicly available information about a program/city (i.e. Google Maps is a great way to explore a campus/city in the comfort of your own home).
  • Ask more questions about a program and environment than you usually would if you were interviewing in person in order to get a feel for the culture/environment of a program since this may be more difficult to determine when interviewing virtually.
  • Try to consider the interview as “normal” as possible. Be professional. Be prepared. Login into your computer and the virtual meeting early in case you encounter technical difficulties.
  • Do not worry too much about technical difficulties. Virtual interviews are also new for the programs. Most programs will have contingency plans in place if there are technical difficulties.
  • Here is some great advice on how to master the art of virtual interviews from fellow AHA early career blogger, Dr. Barinder “Ricky” Hansra (@RickyHansra).
  • Reach out to current or past trainees at a specific program. Most of us are happy to talk about our experience in the program. If any of you are interested in the Internal Medicine or Cardiology fellowship program at the University of Minnesota, please feel free to contact me! Interviewees at our program will be able to still meet with current fellows during their interview days and I assume that this will be a part of interviews at most programs.

Depending on the experience of the programs and applicants this year, perhaps virtual interviewing for medical school, residency, and fellowships will continue in the future. Interviewing virtually may be more convenient and cost-effective. Best of luck to all of you interviewing for medical school, residency, fellowships, or jobs this year and stay safe!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


How My Heart Failure/Transplant Fellowship Changed Me

When I started my Advanced Heart Failure/Transplant fellowship, my program director told me this year would change my life. I thought, “Yeah okay, whatever.” Boy, did that year change my life. The way I looked at the world changed entirely. Transplant is one of the most incredible medical therapies available to patients with end-stage heart, kidney, and liver disease, amongst others. Because of the generosity of the donor and the donor’s family, someone else is given a second chance at life. I always tell my heart transplant patients that they should now be celebrating 2 birthdays every year- to commemorate the gift of life given to them a second time over.

When I say that year changed my life, it truly did, and that change is lasting. When we’re on heart donor call and we’re evaluating hearts for suitability for our recipients, they’re usually younger hearts and cause of death is almost always unexpected. The stories are tragic- suicides, car accidents, freak accidents, and unintended drug overdoses, amongst other causes of death. As I sit in my pajamas (donor heart evaluations happen in the middle of the night a lot) on my laptop making sure I look through all personal and medical details available to me, I can’t help but create an image in my mind of who this donor is, what they may have looked like, where they worked, how much pain they must have been in if their death was intentional, and most gut-wrenching is all the people they left behind. Death is never easy, but when the donors are young, when the deaths are intentional, when the deaths are completely unexpected, it makes me realize how grateful we should be for this life we are living.

That year completely changed how I look at the world. No longer was I going to “sweat the small stuff” whether they were work related or personal. Every donor call reminds me that we sometimes spend so much time, energy, and emotions on things that, in the grand scheme of life, are truly insignificant. I became a happier and more content person. This year taught me that human connections are the most important thing in this world. My family, the friends I consider family, my friends at work, my patients, and all the people I cross paths with that have an impact on my life.

And on the other side of death, after I have pictured this life lost and the family and friends they’ve left behind, I get to tell one of our patients with end-stage heart failure that a heart “has become available” to them and now their life is going to change. I can’t imagine how they feel but I’ve heard all kinds of the emotions on the other end of that phone- tears, shock, anxious smiles that can be heard through the phone, and more tears. My patients tell me it’s a very emotional experience from the time they’re listing. Some have said it feels weird to be “waiting for someone to die” so that they can live. Some have noted guilt. Some of my patients have developed relationships with their donor’s families and I can only imagine how surreal that must feel.

What I do know is that I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else and that being a Transplant Cardiologist has truly changed my life. I am grateful to the patients who have allowed me to play a small role in their journey and forever grateful to the donors and their families for this incredible gift of life.


Importance of Outreach

Peter Wagner MDThe Experimental Biology conference is here again! This year we donned on the wonderful city of Orlando, FL (April 6-10, 2019) where we fill the air with all topics physiology. Generally, we only look at the research portion of meetings/science, but what about the future generations that are to come up after us? The American Physiological Society has implemented initiatives to address that question. I spend my day following the PhUN (Understanding Physiology) sessions where undergraduate students presented their summer research projects and K-12 teachers learned how to incorporate physiology in the classroom.

During the PhUN session, there were about 50 outreach people presenting 25 posters. Some of the attendees made enlightening statements about the event. For example, Dr. Noah Marcus has participated in this event for several years, but since conferences can be a bit overwhelming and busy, he took a break from conferences but could not stay away. Dr. Marcus stated, “One interesting thing about PhUN week is that it does not only focused on the activities the scientist conducts in the classroom, but also how effective the lectures/labs are at the school the activities were conducted.” Furthermore, he suggests formulating partnerships with museums and local institutions. From a teacher’s perspective, Jane Schuster, a teacher from a local FL school system and Physiology Workshop for Life Science Teachers participant, had positive things to say about the Outreach program. Jane stated, “This program has assisted in obtaining connections from other teachers, how they get resources, as well as how to incorporate current research in the class instruction.” She was excited to report that her research professor to came to her classroom for PhUN week, leading to increased student enthusiasm in regard to how the sciences are used in the real world.

Pool with slideAs an Outreach Fellowship recipient from the APS and a vascular scientist, I participated in PhUN week at Sale Elementary School in Columbus. Being that PhUN week was focused on cardiovascular disease, I took a box of lab supplies out to the school to teach the students lab safety, how to collect primary cells, prepare them for slides, and view them under the microscope. I spent the last two days teaching how we use their classroom math in protocol formulation and subsequently writing techniques to summarize the findings. As serendipity would have it, the students were on a section that were easily translatable to what I prepared as talking points.

I would encourage people to do more outreach in schools. In these situations, scientists are preparing future generations of researchers, as well as training young learners to be prepared for what awaits them in college and the workplace. I have taught students from K-12, community college, university, and Adult Education to English as a Second Language, so I can say that seeing the students at different stages, one can appreciate the importance of supporting the educational process to take some of the burden off the instructors.

Quite a bit of my time has been spent preparing for this meeting and participating in K-12, but I will spend the last days of the meeting focusing more on vascular science. There is a lot of the APS Heart and Circulatory section that has a wide range of oral and poster sessions to cover, and I hope you all find news worthy.

Continue to follow me on Twitter for meeting highlights and post any comments or questions you may have. @AnberithaT


Fellow Focus: Peer Mentorship Program

During my first year of general cardiology fellowship, our program underwent an exciting transition – our incoming fellowship class increased from 6 fellows the previous year to 10 fellows in my class, nearly doubling the size of the fellowship. This growth was necessitated by the welcome addition of the West LA VA as a rotation site for house staff, which meant spreading our fellowship across 4 different clinical sites. While this gives our fellows the opportunity to train in a wide variety of clinical settings with different patient populations and pathologies, it also creates a very large fellowship program, with 30 fellows altogether. Although there are advantages to having a large program, a program this size poses the risk that fellows ultimately may not get to build the camaraderie that many acknowledge is a pivotal aspect of their medical training. Indeed, much of the education received during clinical training occurs through our peers.

At the beginning of my chief fellowship year, my co-chiefs and I chose to implement a new program within our fellowship to promote peer mentorship among our fellows. Inspired by an outstanding JACC article describing a peer mentorship program that was instituted in Columbia University’s Pediatric Cardiology fellowship,1 we created a similar program in which “Houses” were formed consisting of one fellow from each class. Each House would be led by its senior 3rd year fellow, who would also choose a faculty mentor for the group (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the House system. Each pillar represents one “House” consistent of 3 fellows and 1 faculty mentor. Adapted from Reference 1.

Each House was advised to meet at least once each quarter, with each meeting organized by the senior fellow. Meetings were suggested to be informal, but discussion items, such as research opportunities, balancing family and fellowship, and exploring career paths, were recommended. Further, senior fellows were encouraged to take ownership of mentoring their respective 1st year fellows, particularly during the first half of the year.

After surveying fellows before and after the implementation of the House program, the results of the program were rather impressive. For instance, prior to the program, only 44% (4/9) first-year fellows said a senior fellow helped them during an early-year overnight call. Post-implementation, this number improved to 100% (10/10 first-year fellows from the next class). Further, first-year fellows were asked to assess their satisfaction with “Peer Mentorship” within the fellowship, and these ratings improved significantly after the House program implementation (Figure 2).

Figure 2: First-year fellow satisfaction for peer mentorship within the fellowship program.

Many more aspects were assessed in these surveys, as well as in surveys given to senior fellows and faculty members. These included measures of feedback frequency given by senior fellows and faculty on conference presentations and measures of academic productivity (abstract submissions to national meetings, peer-reviewed publications). While many other factors besides the House program may have contributed to the improved scores we observed on these surveys (perhaps even a placebo effect), the feedback we received on this program from fellows and faculty were overwhelmingly positive. As the program is far from perfect, we have found that it was easy to implement, sustainable, and effective at improving fellow satisfaction with our training program. As it continues into its second year, we hope that it will continue to improve, and more importantly, that it will further improve the fellowship experience within our program.

This past weekend, I shared our experience with this peer mentorship program with others as a moderated poster abstract at ACC.19 in New Orleans, Louisiana.2 For other large training programs looking for methods to improve peer mentorship, we believe our House system was effective and would be happy to share more details from our experience with those who are interested.



  1. Flyer JN and Joong AN. Improving Peer Mentorship: A Novel Fellow “House” Program. J Am Coll Cardiol. 68:2907-10. 2016
  2. Hsu JJ, Flyer JN, Joong A, Small A, Vampola S, Yang EH, Watson KE. House of Cards: Implementation of a Formal Peer Mentorship System in an Adult Cardiology Fellowship Program. American College of Cardiology, Cardiovascular Training Section, New Orleans, LA. March 2019