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CV 101: 6 career-boosting ways to put your best foot forward

When writing your first medical school CV, stand out from the crowd by focusing on unique experiences and peer-recognition. 


You’re a medical student creating your first curriculum vitae, or CV. You want to craft a high-impact document that will catapult you to the top of the application pile. How do you distinguish yourself from your peers, many of whom have the same coursework and activities on their CVs as you do?

Spending time now taking on leadership roles or assisting with research projects could help take you and your CV to the next level.

“Usually degrees and education are listed first, but after that, highlight your most impressive and unique attributes to show where you shine the most,” says Elizabeth “Liza” Gibbs, OMS III, who attends the Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and co-presented a SOMA CV-writing workshop at OMED.

Whether you’re applying for a residency or an academic position, Michael Clearfield, DO, the dean of the Touro University California, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, says these items are the most important:

  1. Contributions made in the field.
  2. Leadership in the field.
  3. Recognition, such as awards or publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The last item will give candidates a competitive edge, he notes.

“You need to demonstrate that someone other than yourself acknowledges your worth and that you have something to contribute,” says Dr. Clearfield.

When including life experiences, such as volunteer service and hobbies, Heather E. Ross, DO, who served on a medical school review committee, suggests going into more detail. For example, instead of writing that you like to run, mention if you have participated in fun runs or marathons.

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“This section is where you can show what makes you human, so adding a little extra can be helpful,” Dr. Ross says.

Dr. Clearfield, however, says sometimes life experiences are better to include in your personal statement so as not to take away from the significant things you are doing.

What goes in a CV?

“Experiences are wonderful, but be prepared to talk about anything you put on your CV since it could come up interviews,” says national SOMA board member Marie “Liesel” Bergmeyer, OMS III, who attends the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine–Bradenton in Florida and co-presented a SOMA CV-writing workshop at OMED.

Before sending off your CV, consider which experiences you should highlight and which items you can leave off:


  • Leadership positions, especially long-term.
  • Research experience, including research published in a peer-reviewed publication (even if you’re not the first author listed).
  • Awards.
  • Unique skills and qualifications, such as medical Spanish or a wilderness first responder certificate.
  • Advocacy efforts.
  • Relevant volunteer work in your area of interest. “Long-term volunteerism is more meaningful than one-day events,” Dr. Ross says.


  • Work published in a non-peer-reviewed journal. “That shows me a lack of sophistication that the candidates know what they’re really applying for,” Dr. Clearfield says. “If you must include those, separate them from peer-reviewed publications.”
  • Unfunded grant applications (pending grant applications are OK to include).
  • Acronyms for professional affiliations and schools; spell everything out for the reader.

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