When I entered the Gastroenterology Editorial Fellowship last year, many of my cofellows asked, “What exactly is an editorial fellowship?” After completing the program, I can now reflect on what was truly a fantastic year-long experience that complemented my final year of fellowship training.
Manuscripts certainly don’t review and accept themselves into journals, and fellowship training usually gives little insight into how manuscripts move through the submission, peer review, and production processes. What happens while authors wait for an editorial decision?
Since its first publication in 1943, Gastroenterology has importantly affected clinical care and the direction of research in our field. The quality of the American Gastroenterological Association’s flagship journal is derived from the sweat and muscle put in daily by gastroenterology-oriented and hepatology-oriented professionals who strive to transform the steady stream of cutting-edge manuscript submissions into an influential monthly publication read by a broad audience of clinicians, trainees, academic researchers, and policy makers. Without a doubt, this fellowship provided me with a sincere appreciation for the dedication that the board of editors puts into the peer review process and into maintaining the quality of monthly publications.
Near the beginning of my editorial fellowship, I spent a week at Vanderbilt University with the on-site editors. This was an irreplaceable opportunity for a trainee like myself to meet with both clinical- and research-oriented academic gastroenterologists who integrate demanding editorial roles into busy and fulfilling professional careers. Throughout my week there, I met with editors and staff who held various roles within the journal. Overall, this experience taught me about what metrics the journal uses to ensure quality, how manuscripts move from submission to publication, and how the direction and content of the journal is directed toward both AGA members and a broader readership.
At its core, the fellowship was focused on teaching the fundamental process of peer review. High-quality reviews for Gastroenterology provide consultative content and methodological expertise to editors who can then provide direction and make editorial recommendations to the authors. During my fellowship, I learned how to write a structured and nuanced review on the basis of novelty, clinical relevance and effects, and methodological rigor. I was paired with one of the associate editors on the basis of my primary content area of interest and regularly provided reviews for original article submissions. As the year progressed, I become more comfortable with reviewing beyond my immediate knowledge base. I also became more adept at providing detailed comments that would be insightful and accessible to both authors and editors.
Each week, I participated in a phone call with the board of editors, which was composed of thought leaders with content expertise in both gastroenterology and hepatology. During the call, we would thoughtfully critique some of the most cutting-edge research in our field; each manuscript often represented the culmination of years of meticulous work by research groups and multinational collaborations. From a fellow’s perspective, these calls gave me access to what may be the most insightful discussions taking place in our field, discussions which could have potential implications on future disease management principles and clinical practice guidelines. Through our meetings, it became apparent how much work goes into finding quality reviewers and how much time goes into assimilating the resulting recommendations into a cohesive discussion. This was an opportunity to learn how associate editors walk the entire board through a manuscript: from a basis of current knowledge and practice, through the conduct and findings of a particular study, and ultimately, to how study findings might affect the field.
What I came away with the most from the Gastroenterology Editorial Fellowship was an appreciation for the importance of the editorial and peer review process in maintaining the integrity and detail needed in high-quality research. Ultimately, this fellowship gave me a meaningful and immediate way to give back to the field that I can continue over the course of my professional career. I am certain that this unique program will continue to give future editorial fellows the skills and motivation they need to become actively involved in the editorial and peer review processes when they are beginning their independent careers.
Dr. Shah, MD, MBA, is an assistant professor; he is also the director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Motility in the division of gastroenterology in the department of internal medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H.