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Medical students: Show your CV, personal statement who’s boss

Wondering how to tackle these all-important documents? In a recent SOMA workshop, Timothy Beals, OMS III, outlined some best practices.

Most medical students are more interested in treating patients than they are in writing about their own virtues. However, a good curriculum vitae (CV) and personal statement are the keys to entry into residency programs. They are among the most important documents a medical student will create in his or her career. A killer CV can help a student land interviews, while a weak one can dissuade attending physicians who might otherwise be interested.

To help osteopathic medical students make sense of these potentially career-changing documents, the Student Osteopathic Medical Association held a CV and personal statement workshop earlier this month during its spring convention in Washington, D.C.

Workshop leader Timothy Beals, OMS III, who is SOMA’s national director of public relations, stressed brevity for both the CV and the personal statement. Each should be no more than 1.5 pages, he said, to be respectful of the attending physician’s time.

“How enthusiastic would you be if somebody gave you five pages on himself or herself, especially if it was the hundredth one that you had to read?” said Beals, who attends the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, Ill.

Design is another important résumé component, and Beals recommends using standard, unflashy fonts such as Times New Roman.

“Remember when scientists thought they found the Higgs boson particle?” he asked. “Half of the people out there threw a fit because the presentation was written in Comic Sans font. People care about these things.”

The art of CV building

When it comes to a CV’s nucleus—education, research, leadership, volunteer and health care experience—students will most likely have more information to include than fits in the space. When choosing whether to include a given item, Beals said students can ask themselves this question: If I were in the reader’s shoes, would I want to know about this?

Medical students often have long lists of accomplishments from their undergraduate days. Beals said to tread carefully here. He recommended ditching all but the most relevant undergrad accolades.

“When you were applying to medical school, did the medical school want to hear about how awesome you were in high school?” he asked. “Did they care? No. Now you’re applying for the next level.”

Students who graduated with honors or cum laude can keep these on their CVs, though, Beals said. They are relevant and don’t take up much real estate.

Nontraditional students may wonder whether they should include their work experience, and Beals suggested keeping pertinent positions, such as those in health care, while nixing unrelated past jobs, such as stints waiting tables.

Students will want to highlight all published research with their name on it, Beals said, as well as any leadership experience they have, while keeping both sections as streamlined and brief as possible.

Finally, the hobbies and interests section of a medical student’s CV will ideally be a short list, Beals said.

“What do you like to do?” he asked. ” ‘I competitively ice skate, I like to sail, and I’m a Nathan’s hot dog trainee.’ This just lets them know you’re a person, you have interests, and it gives everybody a nice little talking point if they want to pursue that when you’re interviewing with them. But you don’t need to go into detail with it.”

Perfecting the personal statement

The personal statement tells attending physicians why a student is pursuing his or her desired specialty. Students should convey enthusiasm here, Beals said.

“What is it about family medicine that just gets you jacked?” he asked. “People want to know that you’re passionate about this.”

The personal statement is a space where students can highlight their plans for their residency. For instance, students may be interested in giving guest lectures at a nearby medical school during their residency, Beals said.

Once students have a personal statement drafted, they should ask family and friends to review it.

“How does a sentence read to them?” Beals asked. “Are you coming across as a little arrogant? Are you not coming off as not arrogant enough? Get feedback from everyone who will offer it to you.”

After family and friends weigh in, a professional can further polish a personal statement and CV. Many medical schools employ career counselors who advise students for free.

“I’m very fortunate that Chicago employs a staff member specifically to give us one-on-one feedback,” he says. “Find out if your school has any kind of service like that and use it. It is an invaluable resource.”

Following his talk, Beals and other SOMA leaders fanned across the room to answer individual questions and look over CVs and personal statements.

Matthew Robinson, OMS II, of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, was inspired by last year’s workshop to start his own CV. He came back this year to get feedback on it. He said Beals gave him ideas about adding activities and awards to his CV while keeping it streamlined. Robinson recommended that other medical students follow the advice and start building their CVs early, too.

“As you do things throughout the year you have a place to put the information, and your CV will build on its own without your having to sit down in year three and remember everything you’ve done,” he says. “It shows you your weaknesses too. When you realize, ‘I have nothing under this category,’ you can start looking for those experiences to make yourself more well-rounded.”

Katie Eggerman, OMS II, had a similar takeaway from the workshop.

“It’s almost like we’re starting from scratch,” said Eggerman, who attends the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Iowa. “We did so much as undergrads to get us to medical school. But now it’s important for us to develop as medical students and to realize that we need to continue being well-rounded individuals so we can develop our CVs further.”

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