Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Fellowship

Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Fellowship

The Vanderbilt Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Fellowship is an intensive one-year program that combines clinical and surgical duties at a large, busy academic medical center. One position is offered annually, beginning in July. The fellowship is offered through the San Francisco (SF) Match Program and is accredited via the American Rhinologic Society.

The overall goal of the training experience is to equip each graduate with the skill set to be a leader in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery. The program offers a quarternary experience in comprehensive clinical care, research, innovation, and teaching residents. Fellows have an appointment as Instructor and are credentialed clinically as a general otolaryngologist, with admitting and surgical privileges.

Surgical cases include primary and revision sinus surgery, skull base and orbital pathology, and treatment of CSF leaks and encephaloceles. A broad anterior skull base and pituitary experience includes the use of extended endoscopic approaches and complex reconstruction techniques collaboratively with neurosurgical colleagues. Endoscopic approaches to orbital pathology are also emphasized as part of a close collaborative effort with oculopastic surgery. Moreover, the fellow will gain experience in performing office-based rhinologic procedures.

The Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery Division is also integrated with the Vanderbilt Allergy, Sinus and Asthma Partnership (VASAP), a joint venture, consisting also of specialists in allergy/immunology, rheumatology, and pulmonary.  This provides multi-layered training and medical care for patients with complex airway inflammatory disease, including NSAID sensitivity triad and AFRS. 

Multidisciplinary conferences include head and neck tumor board, neurosurgical tumor board, a pituitary planning conference, and a weekly rhinology didactic. Fellows will have access to multiple research opportunities, including active NIH-funded translational research, as well as multiple clinical projects. The department also has active collaborations with the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. Other points of emphasis include training in leadership, career development, and the financial aspects of medical practice.

The department and institution are well situated with a strong referral base encompassing a large geographic region, with more than 20% of the patient population coming from out of state.

  • The Vanderbilt Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Fellowship curriculum provides extensive training in the medical-surgical management of sinonasal disorders and a comprehensive skull base experience. The program also works closely with the Vanderbilt Sinus and Allergy Program (VASAP) to offer a unified airway approach to chronic rhinosinusitis and the Vanderbilt Smell and Taste Center further enriches the clinical and academic experience.

    In addition, fellows are clinical instructors at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, giving them experience and leadership in the academic setting. Fellows are also given surgical privileges at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, and the VA Hospital.

  • The Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery is housed in five levels, totaling 150,000 square feet, in the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. In addition to clinical space, there are several "dry lab" research facilities. Less than a 5-minute walk away are several "wet lab" facilities in proximal buildings on the grounds of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. These facilities include equipment for molecular and cell biology, tissue storage, cell culture and microscopy. Appropriate standard laboratory tools (e.g. water baths, mass balances, and vortexes) and bench space is available. Computers and software resources for statistical analysis, graphing, plotting and the full suite of Microsoft Office applications are provided.

    The Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE) provides an environment in which engineering teams and practitioners can interact and exchange ideas on a regular basis to develop, realize and evaluate novel solutions to identified needs in current practices. Vanderbilt University has a strong history of and commitment to interdisciplinary work and the close proximity of its Medical and Engineering Schools not only eliminates traditional boundaries, but provides a structure to facilitate world-class research.

    The Medical Engineering and Discovery Lab is another research space available to fellows where doctors and engineers work side by side to create new lifesaving medical technologies by designing and constructing devices to make interventional medicine more accurate, less invasive, and more effective.

  • A host of basic science, translational, and clinical research projects are available for the fellow’s participation. Many fellows have also traditionally developed unique projects that have spawned off of existing research lines. A devoted rhinology lab is available for translational and basic science pursuits. These studies are primarily funded under NIH grants totaling over $4 million, for which Dr. Justin Turner is the primary investigator. Additional grants and industry sponsorship round out the funding portfolio. Fellows also have opportunities to engage in studies involving surgical robotics, stereotaxis, and surgical outcomes. The fellowship is designed to provide adequate time for academic pursuits, and fellows are strongly encouraged to present at national meetings. The minimum requirement is to present one abstract at a national meeting during the fellow's Vanderbilt tenure. Fellows typically exceed these minimums just by being engaged in the department and division over the year. This includes multiple opportunities for writing review articles and chapters, which appear in high-visibility, high-impact sources. Statistical analysis and clinical research coordinator support are available in the division and department, respectively.

  • Fellows attend weekly department Grand Rounds, giving one lecture annually. There is also a weekly rhinology and skull base case conference where resident case presentations are moderated by the fellow and senior faculty. The department also participates in a weekly multidisciplinary Head and Neck Tumor Board as well a Pituitary Planning Meeting, in which fellows participate periodically. Fellows are mentors to residents for rhinology case presentations at the quarterly departmental M&M Conference and also proctor the annual Cadaver Endoscopic Skills Dissection Lab. Fellows also have an active role in training residents at various levels in the clinic and OR.

  • Fellows rotate in two-month segments with senior rhinology attendings to receive both clinic and OR experience.

    In the OR, fellow guides PGY-3 resident through the approach and lower sinuses before taking the role of the primary training surgeon for more complicated steps suck as the skull base, frontal, drilling, tumor removal, skull base reconstruction, etc.

    The fellow rounds with the rhinology service residents and communicates with appropriate attendings. The fellow is the primary point of contact for impatient rhinology consultations and, in many instances, is the primary surgeon on the resulting operative cases with backup by more senior faculty of the division. Once monthly, the fellow staffs the residents' continuity clinic. Call as an attending is one weekend out of six.

    The Rhinology fellow works collaboratively with the facial plastic and reconstructive surgery fellow (in O-HNS), the occuloplastic surgery fellow, and the neurosurgical team for preop planning, surgery, and postop care. Opportunities also exist to collaborate with the sleep surgery section for exposure to advanced aspects of that discipline.


    International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology
    American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy
    The Laryngoscope


    1. Develop an expanded and deeper knowledge of the basic sciences, particularly as it pertains to clinical applications and to research in Rhinology.
    2. Demonstrate an effective, lifelong methodology for maintaining current knowledge and competency in the practice of Rhinology.
    3. Continue regular surveillance and reading of new literature and information pertinent to the “cutting edge” practice of Rhinology.
    4. Be frank and realistic regarding procedures and operations you feel confident in performing independently, and knowing when you need to refer or ask for help.


    1. Develop leadership skills and decision‐making capabilities
      • Delegate responsibilities to junior residents and medical students, commensurate with their abilities to accept those responsibilities.
      • Serve as a role model for residents and medical students.
      • Serve as a resource for residents and medical students, providing advice, information and guidance.
      • Monitor the progress of residents and provide constructive criticism and feedback on their performance.
    2. Master and become proficient in advanced clinical examination techniques and procedures.
    3. Demonstrate independence in surgical judgment, carrying an operative procedure to completion, and
    4. instructing junior residents in proper surgical technique.
    5. Have a method to record operative experience.
      • Implement a personal operative recording database for operative log recording.
    6. Prepare for practice opportunities post‐fellowship.
    7. Develop the habit of intermediate and long‐term planning by having one- and five-year goals.
    8. Master the orchestration of running a busy service, taking into consideration all the details that go into providing excellent clinical care and meeting the responsibilities incumbent upon the fellow.


    I. Medical Knowledge

    1. Hone ability to diagnose of a broad spectrum of patients presenting to the clinic, emergency room and inpatient consultations.
    2. Fully understand and teach the use and interpretation of diagnostic radiology.
    3. Demonstrate proficient knowledge of nasal and skull base anatomy.
    4. Gain experience in advanced procedures and surgical skills needed in a Rhinologist.
    5. Begin to develop a working knowledge of immunotherapy for allergic disease.
    6. Describe and perform various approaches for treating malignant sinonasal neoplasms, including multidisciplinary procedures and the criteria for selecting each approach.
    7. Describe and perform the various approaches to managing chronic frontal sinusitis including endoscopic and open procedures.
    8. Describe and perform various approaches for managing cerebrospinal fluid leaks.
    9. Outline the expected course of Rhinologic procedures and describe in detail common and unusual complications that can arise in operative and postoperative periods.
    10. Understand the limitations of Rhinologic surgery and what constitutes realistic expectations on the part of the patient.

    II. Patient Care

    1. Hone the management skills of a broad spectrum of patients with various problems.
    2. Know and be able to teach the indications, contraindications and risks of surgery.
    3. Thoroughly understand the perioperative management of patients.
    4. Independently order and interpret diagnostic tests and understand their role in patient care.
    5. Perform a broad range of surgical procedures with oversight.
    6. Makes correct diagnosis and formulates appropriate treatment plan for sinonasal tumors.
    7. Recognize common complications and obtain appropriate consultations.
    8. Formulate treatment plans for sinusitis based on understanding of the pathophysiology.

    III. Interpersonal Communication

    1. Communicate effectively with patients presenting to the clinic, emergency room and inpatient consultations.
    2. Communicate effectively with other healthcare providers both verbally and with written documentation.
    3. Develop working relationships across specialties.

    IV. Professionalism

    1. Demonstrate respect for patients and their families.
    2. Demonstrate respect for other healthcare providers.
    3. Exhibit cultural sensitivity with patients or providers of varying ethnicities and backgrounds.
    4. Respect patient privacy and personal health information.
    5. Maintain an appearance befitting of a physician.
    6. Analyze and manage complex ethical situations.

    V. Practice Based Learning and Improvement

    1. Hone skills of critical self‐evaluation regarding patient care and based on patient outcomes.
    2. Participate in self‐evaluation exercises such as discussions with faculty and conferences (M&M) that critically review patient care.
    3. Identify gaps in knowledge and methods to address those gaps.
    4. Identify quality sources of information locally and on the internet to improve self‐learning and patient care.
    5. Engage in the education of medical students, residents and patients.
    6. Demonstrate consistent behavior of incorporating evidence‐based information in practice.

    VI. Systems Based Practice

    1. Effectively navigate affiliated hospital(s).
    2. Effectively utilize the electronic medical records.
    3. Appreciate the cost of various interventions and learn to practice cost‐effective medicine.
    4. Advocate for quality patient care and optimal patient care systems.
    5. Analyze M&M findings and provide feedback to improve patient safety.
  • Applicants interested in the Vanderbilt Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Fellowship must meet the following requirements:

    • Physician currently in or has completed an Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery residency program.
      • Program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or be board-certified in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
    • Physicians must be US board certified or US board eligible.
      • Eligibility for the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery certification exam requires that one has completed their post-graduate residency training in an ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) approved program.
    • A valid full (not training) Tennessee medical license is required at the start of the fellowship. Requirements for Tennessee Full Medical Licensure are available from the TN Board of Medical Examiners.
      • Qualification for a full Tennessee state medical license requires graduation from a medical school that is accredited by the LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) and successful completion of a one-year US training program approved by the ACGME. US or Canadian citizenship (or proof of legal entitlement to live and work in the US) is also required.
    • Obtain a Tennessee DEA. Information on requirements for DEA registration are available from the US DEA
    • Provide proof of citizenship or Visa status (if applicable). Visa information (if applicable) should be provided with the application. Please note all of the requirements and be advised that we do not sponsor visas for fellows. The visa you would need to independently acquire must permit you to work and may not be a student visa as this position requires teaching. For Visa information, please consult the US State Department website.
    • 2002-2003: Charles Oh, MD
    • 2004-2005: Paul Russell III, MD
    • 2005-2006: Jeffrey Cutler, MD
    • 2006-2007: Marina Boruk, MD
    • 2007-2008: Samuel Becker, MD
    • 2008-2009: Leslie Nurse, MD
    • 2009-2010: Esther Hurtt (Kim), MD
    • 2010-2011: Liat Shama, MD
    • 2011-2012: Alfredo Archilla, MD
    • 2012-2013: John Schneider, MD
    • 2014-2015: Matthew Clavenna, MD
    • 2015-2016: Benjamin Hull, MD
    • 2016-2017: Leah Hauser, MD
    • 2017-2018: Todd Wannemuehler, MD
    • 2018-2019: Eric Succar, MD
    • 2019-2020: Ashley Bauer, MD
    • 2020-2021: Laura van de Laar, MD
    • 2021-2022: Alex Labby, MD
    • 2022-2023: Kolin Rubel, MD

Fellowship Director:

Rakesh K. Chandra, MD, MMHC
Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
Endowed Director, Roland “Ron” Eavey, MD, SM Endowed Directorship in Leadership and Education
Service Chief, Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery

Program Coordinators:

Office of Education

Fellow Publications

Kolin Rubel, MD (current fellow)


Alex Labby, MD (2021-2022)


Laura van de Laar, MD (2020-2021)