Fellowship Training in Transplant Surgery

Fellowship Training in Transplant Surgery

As published in the American Journal of Surgery (01/07). Re-published at OnSurg by permission of our collaborative partners at the Association of Women Surgeons.

Author: Hilary Sanfey MB FACS FRCSI

To become a Transplant Surgeon, it is necessary to first complete a Residency in General Surgery, followed by a Fellowship in Solid Organ Transplantation.

General Surgery Residency

transplantMany Transplant Surgeons first develop an interest in transplantation while training in General Surgery; therefore, the choice of a Residency for General Surgery may already have been made with other considerations or priorities in mind. However, if a student has already decided on a career in transplantation while still in medical school and before applying for a General Surgery Residency, the choice of a Residency Program may become more relevant. If this is the case, during the interview process applicants should look for a General Surgery Residency that offers — in addition to a good broad-based training in General Surgery — research experience in an area relevant to transplantation; for example, Immunology or Infectious Disease as well as exposure to Clinical Transplantation and Critical Care. The best information in this regard can often be obtained from other Residents in a particular institution, or from the NRMPwww.nrmp.aamc.org.1 The AWS Resource Manual is a useful tool to identify members in other institutions by specialty.

[OnSurg provides a Directory of Fellowships. Link here to Transplant Programs.]

In assessing the potential transplant experience available to a Resident, applicants should take into consideration the number of cases performed annually, the number of fellows and upper-level Residents on the Transplant Service, and the number of operative cases. The largest Transplant Programs may not necessarily offer the best experience to Residents because of an overabundance of Fellows. Also important is to pay attention to the national reputation and mentoring skills of the Transplant Program Director, as his/her recommendations will be important to securing a Fellowship position upon completion of General Surgery training. A formal match process was initiated in 2005.1,2 The application and interview process for Fellowship training should take place during the fourth clinical year of Residency. Match results are announced in August of the fifth clinical year. Although research experience is not required, many applicants have had some formal experience during their Residency for a one- to two-year period. Most others have at least written a clinical paper or Case Reports that demonstrate some objective interest in Transplant Surgery or a related topic. Some research opportunities are discussed below.

Transplant Fellowship

The aim of a Transplant Surgery Fellowship Training Program is to develop proficiency in the surgical and medical management of patients with end-stage organ disease. Candidates for such training must have completed a Residency that satisfies the educational requirements for Certification by the American Board of Surgery or The American Board of Urology. A list of accredited programs is available from the Association of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS, http://www.asts.org/fellowshiptraining.cfm).2

More than 50 approved programs for Solid Organ Transplantation exist in the USA, but only approximately 20 of these are approved for all abdominal organs (liver, kidney, pancreas). The length of the program is usually two years for training in liver, kidney, and pancreas transplantation and programs accept one to two trainees per year. Applications should be made directly to the individual Transplant Program Director as soon as possible. Whereas some Transplant Surgeons later choose to specialize in one organ, it is better to train in a program that offers experience in all three areas. The program also should provide instruction in histocompatibility/immunology, infectious disease, and pre- and postoperative management of patients who require transplantation, as well as in performance and interpretation of special diagnostic techniques necessary for management of rejection and other problems in transplant recipients.

Activity of the Training Program must be sufficient to ensure adequate exposure to the surgical procedures relevant to transplantation. To qualify for accreditation by the ASTS, a Transplant Surgery Fellowship Program must have 75 patients available for each Transplant Fellow to serve as the Principal Surgeon over the course of their training. In addition, for accreditation as kidney, liver, and pancreas Transplant Training Programs, each Transplant Fellow must perform at least 30 kidney transplants, 45 liver transplants, and 15 pancreas transplants over the course of their Fellowship. At least 25 multi-organ procurements should be performed annually. The length of the Fellowship period should be no less than 24 months. Programs that offer training in kidney-only or liver-only transplantation should offer at least 12 months of clinical training, with the balance of the two-year Fellowship spent in additional clinical or laboratory work. Programs that offer training in both renal and extra-renal transplantation, including multi-organ procurement, should offer at least 18 months of clinical training, with the balance of the two-year Fellowship spent in additional clinical work or laboratory experience.

The Fellow also must gain experience in evaluation of living donors, as well as procurement and preservation of organs obtained from cadaver donors. The trainee also must have continuity of experience in the postoperative and long-term follow up of transplant recipients. Finally, participation in basic science research or clinical research is strongly encouraged.

Board Certification

No Board Certification is available in Transplant Surgery, but ASTS accreditation is required. ASTS accreditation is available upon completion of an ASTS-approved program after the individual has been in practice as a Transplant Surgeon for a year. Currently, no formal re-certification requirements are necessary for Transplant Surgery. However, transplant surgeons are expected to keep their general surgery certification current.

Grant Funding and Research Fellowships

A number of awards are available through industry and societies. Local, regional and national societies (see Membership section) may offer more opportunities. The following are some potential sources of funding:

Medical Students

Medical Students interested in Transplant Surgery should try to identify a mentor early in their careers. For students interested in a formal research experience, there may be institutional or departmental funds to support a research project.


Again, it is important to identify a mentor in the Transplant community as early as possible. The mentor should assist with introduction to relevant societies, choice of Fellowship programs, research projects, and letters of recommendation. Often there is a good opportunity for research at the Resident’s institution. Other possibilities for additional funding are:

Award Eligibility Years Amt Per Year
ASTS – Roche Laboratories Surgical Scientist Scholarship: 2 recipients per year Surgical Resident PGY 3 2 $35,000
ASTS – NKF/ASTS Folkert Belzer MD Research Award:
1 Recipient
Surgical Resident PGY 3 2 $35,000


Transplant Fellow

Usually a Program Director will have some projects already fully funded and suitable for a short period of research.

Award Eligibility Years Amt Per Year
ASTS-Novartis Fellowship in Transplantation Qualified surgeon who will have completed an approved ACGME residency program or its foreign equivalent in a major surgical discipline by annual deadline. 2 $42,500



Individual institutions may offer research funding for junior faculty as part of a recruitment package. This information is generally available from the Department Chair or Dean of the Medical School.

Award Eligibility Years Amt Per Year
ASTS – Fujisawa,USA Faculty Development Award: 1 recipient Junior Faculty Member – 0-3 Years Post Fellowship 2 $35,000
ASTS – Mid Level Faculty Research Award Assistant or Associate Professor and Attendant Appointment 2 $35,000
Roche Presidential Travel Award: 2 recipients per year Investigator – 42 years of age or younger 1 $10,000
ASTS Collaborative Scientist Research Award ASTS Member and collaborating scientist (member or non-member) 2 $42,500


Membership in Transplant Societies

Local and regional Transplant Surgery Societies offer open membership and provide opportunities for education or networking. The local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO, http://www.aopo.org/aopo/)3 is often a good place to begin. Several national societies are listed below under references. Full membership details are available on their Web pages. Membership criteria vary by organization, but almost anyone can attend the annual clinical meetings.

ASTS (American Society Of Transplant Surgeons)

Membership is open to Surgeons, Physicians, and Non-Physician Scientists actively engaged in transplantation. Full membership requires certification by American Boards and training in an approved program. In certain instances, upon recommendation of the Membership Committee with the approval of the Council, membership may be granted for equivalent experience. Surgeon members should have current active involvement as a Staff Member of a Clinical Transplant Team for at least six months, and the applicant should have a minimum of three publications in peer-reviewed journals in the field of Transplantation or Immunology to include primary authorship of at least one article. Members must make available, if requested, their patient records to a review body of the Society for ethical reasons. Other categories of membership are available for trainees, and anyone interested in transplantation can attend the Annual Meetings.


1. National Resident Matching Program
2501 M Street, NW, Suite 1
Washington, DC 20037-1307
http://www.nrmp.org/res_match/index.html (residency)
http://www.nrmp.org/fellow/index.html (fellowship)

2. American Society Transplant Surgeons (ASTS)
1020 North Fairfax Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314

3. Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO)
1364 Beverly Road, Suite 100
McLean, VA 22101

4. International Liver Transplantation Society (ILTS)
17000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C
Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054

5. American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD)
1729 King Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314-2720

6. Surgical Infection Society (SIS)
Dr. William G. Cheadle, MD
SIS, Membership Chairman
Department of Surgery
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292

7. American Society of Transplantation (AST formerly ASTP)
17000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C
Mt. Laurel NJ 08054

8. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
1100 Boulders Parkway, Suite 500
P.O. Box 13770
Richmond, VA 23225-8770

9. National Kidney Foundation (NKF)
30 East 33rd Street, Suite 100
New York, NY 10016

10. International Pancreas Transplant Registry (IPTR)
University of Minnesota
Department of Surgery
Mayo Mail Code 280
20 Delaware Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0392

11. International Islet Transplant Registry (ITR)
International Office:
Mathias D. Brendel, MD
Third Medical Department
University Hospital Giessen
D-35385 Giessen

North American Office:
Bernhard J. Hering, MD
Department of Surgery
University of Minnesota
Mayo Mail Code 280
420 Delaware Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0392

12. The Cell Transplant Society
c/o Cognizant Communications Corp.
3 Hartsdale Road
Elmsford, NY 10523

Author: Hilary Sanfey MB FACS FRCSI
Associate Professor
Transplant Division
University of Virginia Health System
Charlottesville, VA

Link to descriptions in other gen surg subspeciaties: