Professional development

5 key features of a great physician CV

DO experts and a physician recruiter share some small steps DOs can take to make their CVs pop.

After the struggle of medical school and getting into residency, another challenge begins: Landing your first job.

The quality of your CV can make or break your efforts.

The CV—short for the Latin phrase curriculum vitae, or “course of life”—is a summary of skills and qualifications that goes into greater depth than a resume. On a typical CV, you might include detailed explanations of your:

  • Achievements and honors
  • Research and work experience
  • Any work published under your name

When you’re applying for your first job out of residency, the interview is typically more important than the CV in terms of getting hired, says Monique Gary, DO, a CV consultant and medical director of the Grand View Health cancer program in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.

But the CV—along with your resume—is crucial to helping you land that interview in the first place, Dr. Gary says.

“You want to take all of your experiences and frame them in a way that’s relevant to the job that you are applying to,” she says. “Your life should tell a story, and your CV tells the chronologic milestones of that story.”

5 key features of a great CV
1. Brevity
The CV itself typically is significantly longer than a resume. It should highlight your experience, both as a clinician and researcher.

Although it is important to be comprehensive, do not let the CV run too long. Keep it to three to five pages, Dr. Gary says.

“Nobody wants to read 20 pages of a CV,” she says. “If your CV is longer than five pages, chances are they’re not going to read it.”

2. Customized

Your CV and resume should be “fluid, living documents that can be tweaked and tailored depending on the position that you’re applying for,” Dr. Gary says.

If you are going to work in a university setting, your CV should highlight teaching, research and leadership experience, Dr. Gary says.

On the other hand, if you want a job in a private practice, emphasize any business experience that you have.

3. Visually appealing

In addition to having strong content in your CV, it needs to look good, says Jamie Thomas, executive vice president of the Medicus Firm, a physician recruiting agency.

Use a clear, legible font and keep formatting clean, neat and consistent, he says.

4. Includes a Cliff’s Notes

It’s also a great idea to include a brief summary of your CV at the top of it, Thomas says. Consider opening with a few lines or bullet points that provide a quick synopsis of your achievements and future goals.

“Your CV could be passed around several times to several different decision makers within an organization—some of whom may be busier than others and less likely to read the entire CV,” he says.

5. Easy for nonmedical professionals to understand

Finally, make sure your CV communicates your message clearly to readers from all backgrounds, says Julia Pewitt Kinder, DO, a Nashville-based physician career consultant and coach, and founder of Physician Career Opportunities.

Have several people you trust read through the CV and tell you what they think, Dr. Kinder suggests.

Make sure all of these people are honest enough to tell you if they do not like or understand something, and that at least some them are not in the medical profession, so they can give you an outsider’s perspective.

“You have to remember that your CV might go to someone nonmedical,” Dr. Kinder says. “It might go to the human resources department.”

Tips for younger doctors

New doctors are unlikely to have as much experience as their older peers. So, if you are just starting out, you may need to be more creative when crafting your CV, Kinder says.

“There are thousands of doctors, and all the CVs look the same,” Dr. Kinder says. “So, what can you add that is interesting?”

To stand out, consider including other things you have done that are compelling—such as volunteering at the Humane Society, belonging to a club or traveling on a mission trip.

“It doesn’t always have to be medical,” Dr. Kinder says.

She adds that new doctors might consider hiring a CV professional who has the right credentials, such as certification from the National Resume Writers’ Association. It’s also helpful to seek out a professional who has experience working with doctors on their CVs.

“They can make it look the best that it can be,” Dr. Kinder says.

Today’s marketplace is competitive, Dr. Gary says, with many qualified applicants coming out of residency.

“They’re all the top of the top and the best of the best,” she says.

So, the little things matter, such as addressing the hiring manager directly by name rather than using “Dear Sir or Madam.” So does explaining how you can add value to your potential new workplace.

“You really want to make sure that your CV doesn’t just talk about why you are the best at what you do, but why you’re the right person and the right fit for the job,” Dr. Gary says.

The biggest mistakes to avoid

Dr. Kinder often sees CVs that are confusing and messy-looking.

“I see CVs all the time that are just plain hard to read,” she says. “I look at it, and visually it’s unappealing. And I do not want to dive in and sort it out.”

A great CV will have clear job titles, descriptions, and section headings, Dr. Kinder says.

“I see people using section titles that don’t always make sense,” she says, adding that sometimes she looks at such titles and thinks, “I have no idea what that means.”

Dr. Gary says she often sees CVs that have spelling errors and CVs in a font that is too large, or too unprofessional—such as cursive.

“Spell check, spell check and spell check again,” she recommends.

Thomas says it has become trendy for physicians to add a picture to the CV—something he dislikes.

“I would always discourage the use of pictures,” he says. “You never know who is reviewing the CV, and it can clutter the document.”

Dr. Kinder says that as you craft your CV, always keep one thing at the top of your mind: “Pretend to be the person who is reading your CV. Think about what is important to them.”

Related reading:

Tips for crafting the perfect CV: Advice for physicians

How to write a medical student CV

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