How To Write A Medical CV. The Ultimate Illustrated Guide.
One of the interesting aspects of medical training is that we tend to assume that doctors have the professional skills to manage their careers. However its been my experience that many struggle with the job application process because this has not been the focus of their training to date. So if you are feeling a bit lost as to what to write in and how to write your CV. Here's an overview.
How To Write a Good Medical CV.
The key things to writing a good medical CV are to:
- Understanding that employers spend about 6 or 8 seconds the first time they look at your CV.
- Understanding that the document that employers actually want is more a resume than a CV.
- Pay close attention to what you put on your front page. Everything that is good about you should be on that front page.
- Tailor your CV to the role you are applying for. The best way to do this is provide a Career Summary or Career Goal Statement as the first block of writing. This way you get to control the initial narrative. Not the reviewer.
- Not be overly worried about page length. A good CV should be as long as it needs to be and no longer.
- Don’t put a photograph on your CV. This introduces unecessary bias.
- Do make your name the biggest thing on the front page. That’s what you want them to remember.
What's The Purpose of a Medical CV or Doctor Resume?
The aim of your CV or Resume should be to present a summary of your career, including education, professional history and job qualifications with a strong emphasis on demonstrating that you have the specific skills related to the position you are applying for.
The person who is shortlisting candidates for interview will on average be spending only a few seconds to review your CV the first time. Their primary aim at this stage is to determine whether your application should be considered further. Therefore your primary consideration is to develop a CV that moves you forward in the application process. You should ensure that your CV is relevant, clear and concise.
What Exactly Are You Writing? A CV Or A Resume.
Let’s start firstly with defining what this document that you are writing is all about. I’ve seen quite a few blogs and posts about constructing a medical CV but they all seem to skip a basic issue.
Which is whether you are actually compiling a CV or a Resume? In a funny little typical Australian quirk, most medical employers ask you to submit a CV but in fact they don’t really want a CV. That’s just what they call it.
The Meaning of Curriculum Vitae
Curriculum Vitae means course of life in latin. A proper CV therefore is literally a blow by blow account of everything that has occurred in your career and would stretch into several pages for many doctors.
The Meaning of Resume
A Resume on the other hand comes from the French meaning to interrupt and therefore is meant to be an abridged and tailored account of your career. You are tailoring your career history and achievements to best address the job you are currently applying for.
So in fact what you are really writing is more akin to a resume. But you still need to ensure that certain information is included, in particular all your educational qualifications and history as well as all your work history.
Where To Start With Your Doctor CV.
The CV is bookended by the front page and the referees which come at the very end. These are the two most important elements of a good doctor CV or doctor resume. The obvious starting point is with the front page. We will discuss this in more depth and then move on to the other elements.
First it may be helpful to illustrate what I am talking about. Those orange pencils are hotspots by the way. If you hover over them they provide more detail.
Diagram: The importance of the front page is illustrated above. Hover over the hot links for more information.
The Front Page.
The Front Page is where you should focus your effort most. So its best to at least start here. Remember you can always make a draft of this bit then fill in other remaining elements and then come back to it.
Don’t worry too much about formatting for now. Just open a word document and concentrate on the content and the order. Try to keep all your formatting, text and styling to a minimum so that you can do that at the end. That way you will have a more consistent look.
Alternatively, you can use one of the many online CV builders that are available. I recommend VisualCV because it is free to use and if you want to upgrade to one of their slightly nicer templates you can do so for a few dollars.
6 to 8 Seconds To Review Your CV.
Whats all this fuss about the front page? Well, studies show that experienced recruiters spend only a few seconds reviewing your CV (or resume) on the first pass and that most of this time is spent on the first page.
The front page is therefore extremely critical. It should be where you put all your best information. This makes it easy for the person reviewing your CV to determine that you are worthy of a more deeper review. Which in most cases means progressing to the interview phase.
The Front Page should consist of the following elements (see the hot-spotted image):
- Your Name – which should be the biggest thing on the page because you want them to remember your name*
- Your contact details – you want them to be able to find you
- Your short qualifications
- A career statement or personal statement
- Your work history in reverse chronological order
If you have any space left. Which most doctors do not. You can start to account for your educational history. Again in reverse chronological order.
I’ve written before about the importance of the career statement. But remember this is where you can highlight all the other good things that are worthy of being on your front page. The things that are buried on pages 2, 3, 4, 5 etc… because you are following the rule of work history first, then education history.
Your Name Is The Hero. Not Your Photo.
For an in-depth explanation as to why photos are not recommended on medical resumes go here. The 3 main reasons are that photographs can unnecessarily bias the reviewers impression of you as a candidate, are seen by many panel members as breaking an informal rule AND take up a lot of that valuable 6 to 8 seconds that the reviewer spends reviewing your CV the first time.
What you do want to stand out on the page is your name. This seems an obvious point. But I have seen plenty of CV and resumes where the applicant used a small heading for their name. If you are going to go big with any font and any styling (sometimes a dark background header with your name in white looks good, but don’t go too crazy) then make it your name. You want the reviewer to remember it AND when they go back through that pile of CVs the next time be able to easily find it.
Lots of Narrative Please!
Its important to talk about yourself in your CV. Control the narrative from the start with your career goal statement. But don’t switch straight over to bullet points for the rest of your CV. There are probably some really memorable moments in your work career and education and they deserve a sentence or two if they relate to the job that you are aiming for.
Too often on CVs and Resumes candidates waste valuable space listing all the job specifics (e.g. dates and locations and role responsibilities) whilst not talking about what they achieved or learnt in the role.
Try not to bore the employer.
In most cases you can safely assume that the employer knows what an Intern does on a daily basis. So use the opportunity to talk about the unique things you did as an Intern.
For example, perhaps you are aiming for a specialty trainee position in emergency medicine and one of the selection criteria is about rapid decision making.
Perhaps in your intern or resident role you had an opportunity to demonstrate rapid decision-making? Maybe you worked one doctor down for a significant period so had to bring those skills to bear. If so, write about this element of your work history and relate it to how it will help you in the new role.
Talk About Your Achievements.
I’m hammering the point here a bit. But it is important to sell yourself. Try to put down at least one important thing that you did in your most recent 2 job roles. If you can back this up with hard statistics. Like “implemented a new pre-admission protocol that reduced the number of patients needing to be re-scheduled for day surgery by 10%” that’s even better.
But maybe its just a compliment your received from a grateful family or something unique your consultant wrote about your performance on your end of term report.
Think also about what things you did that were special in medical school and write about one or two achievements there. Anything that shows leadership or organisation or teaching skills is good. So examples might be being secretary for a club or tutoring pre-clinical students. For the former you can talk about what the aims of the club were and what was achieved that year. For the latter you can talk about how many students you tutored and if you do have some teaching evaluations you can talk about these as well.
The Order. And The Rest.
The expected and recommended order on a Doctor CV is as follows:
- Details (name, contacts, registration, short qualifications),
- Career Summary,
- Work History (Achievements) most recent job first and following in reverse chronological order,
- Education History, again most recent qualification first,
- The Rest,
With “The Rest”. Its totally up to you what you put how you list it and in what order.
If your teaching achievements sell you best then put this next. If its your skills put that next etc…
Some other headings you may wish to consider using are:
- Professional Development
- Academic Achievements
- Extra Qualifications
- Volunteer Work
- Quality Improvement
- Leadership and Management
- Computer Skills
But again. I emphasis you don’t need to use all of these.
Don't Worry Too Much About Research If You Haven't Done Much.
Many trainee doctors fret that they don’t have 10 peer review publications to list on their CV and that this will count badly against them. For most of the jobs that you are applying for research will at best be a secondary consideration. The panel will probably be more worried if they see a CV that has an excessive amount of research listed. As they will get the impression that you may be more interested in research than looking after the patients on your team.
There is no rule that says you have to put the word “Research” as a heading on your CV. You could for example use something else like “Publications” which gives you a bit more breadth to talk about your academic profile. For example maybe you have presented a poster at a conference. That’s a publication. Even blog posts are now becoming recognised as scholarly activities.
You can also focus on related areas such as quality improvement. Perhaps you were involved in an audit as well as teaching (for e.g. grand rounds presentations). There’s lots of scope here.
And as I say. Not having much research rarely counts against a candidate. The only situation that it might count against you is in college selection where sometimes points are awarded for having certain qualifications or amounts of publications.
Referees are arguably the most important aspect of your CV. Especially if you make it through to the interview round. Your referees should be contacted to provide some information about you. This information is gold and should be treated as more important than the actual interview itself.
This is the reason why referees are placed last on the CV. It makes them easier to find.
Experienced recruiters know to weight the value of a well taken reference or set of references above the quality of your interview performance. This is because studies show that references have greater predictive validity in selection.
Sadly, many of the doctors you will encounter on selection panels do not know this fact and place too much emphasis on the interview performance. But this does not mean that they are not interested in your referees. They are.
Who should I choose for my referees?
In most industries, your first referee will be your current supervisor or manager and your second referee will generally be you’re the previous supervisor or manager. Medicine is a little different because trainee doctors are rotating around frequently and are interacting with several supervisors and managers on a regular basis.
There are three key principles that I outline to trainee doctors when selecting referees.
The first is recency, the second is relevancy and the third is diversity.
Recruiters will generally want to speak to someone who has recently worked with you, preferably your current manager. In some circumstances this is a requirement. Some good options for this might be your Director of Training, Director of Medical Services or Medical Workforce Unit or JMO Manager.
You also want at least one referee who is relevant to your chosen future career. For most this generally means one Consultant who is a Fellow of the Specialty College you are aiming to enroll with. Some doctors in training try to have 3 College Fellows listed as their only referees and worry if this is not the case. It can be incredibly hard to collect 3 good referees from one College and I actually don’t recommend this approach. You are far better off focusing on obtaining one College referee who has actually supervised you in a term. Most trainee doctors will have a chance to work one term in their preferred specialty before applying for posts.
So who else might you ask to act as a referee?
This is where diversity is a consideration. There may be a Consultant from another specialty who you got on well with in their term. If so, it’s a good idea to put them down. Other options include: Nurse Managers, Senior Allied Health Professionals and Advanced Trainees. The key consideration here is that these should be people that you have worked with who have gotten to know you reasonably well.
I would also recommend that at least one of your referees is male and at least one is female.
By having a diverse list of referees you are telling the selection panel that you value teamwork and the roles of others in the team and also that you are able to get on well with a range of different people in the workplace.
Are there some referees I should avoid or seek out?
As a trainee, you may be worried that a certain referee may be tougher than another referee or that some referees carry more wright because of their name, reputation and connections.
There is really no hard and fast way of knowing whether a referee is more or less likely to improve your chances of an interview or successful job application. Gut feel is probably your best ally here. If you feel that you have established a good authentic working relationship with a referee, they are likely to give you a good reference or at worst a balanced one.
Personally I would avoid any referee that infers that their name on your CV will carry some sort of additional weight.
How many referees do I need?
The short answer is 3. The panel will be required to contact at least 2 referees and they usually only collect 2. The third referee is there in case one of your other 2 referees are not able to be contacted. There is no rule that says you have to stop at 3 referees. You can list more and it may be sensible to add a couple of more referees if you feel that this enhances your candidacy. Extra referees can for example demonstrate your ability to be a team player by listing additional referees from a range of areas of medicine and a range of disciplines.
More than 5 or 6 referees is probably excessive and you should also be mindful of the order in which you list your referees.
How to order and list your referees.
Remember that the first two people listed on your CV as a referee are the ones that will be contacted first for a reference. So you should generally order your list of referees in the order that you would prefer them to be contacted. However, if one of your referees is someone you have not worked with in over 12 months then you should either rethink using them as a reference or put them a bit further down your list (3 or 4 or 5).
You should list your referees as follows:
[Prefix] [First Name] [Second Name], [Job Title] [Organization], [Location]
e.g. Dr Sandy Duncan, Head of Department of Medicine, St Cliffs Hospital, Sydney
You may wish to add relevant qualifications (e.g. College Fellowship) if this clarifies the nature of the referee better. But you don’t need to list all of their qualifications. You generally do not need to provide a physical address or postal address.
If possible list a mobile phone number and email address as this makes the job of the person taking a reference much easier.
Referees available upon request.
Sometimes you may see the words “Referees available upon request” listed on a CV. This might occur for example when applying for more senior training or consultant posts. It is generally done when you may wish to ensure that you speak to your referees prior to them being contacted by someone from the selection panel, for example where there might be some sensitivity around you leaving your current role
What Is the Optimal Length For a Doctor CV or Resume?
If you look for advice online about Resume length you will quickly be told that a resume should be no more than 2 pages. This is however unrealistic for most doctors. Because we tend to move jobs initially once a year when starting out we tend to accumulate a lengthy work history fairly quickly. Along with this also normally comes publications or extra professional development which is worth including.
The optimum length for a doctor CV or resume should be as long as it needs to be and no more. Practically getting it down to 2 pages is unrealistic. Most doctors can comfortably restrict their CV to a maximum of 4 pages. But again the emphasis is on what information needs to be provided. Not how much. Your emphasis should always be on relevance and creating a narrative that sells you to the employer, so if that means going a little longer in length then that is fine. So long as you spend most of your time refining your front page.
Tips For Ensuring That Your Doctor CV (Resume) Stands Out In A Good Way - How To Write a Professional Medical CV.
- As long as it needs to be — Your CV should give the reader enough information for them to explore relevant points during the interview. Most are able to manage this in 4 pages but remember that quality is much more important than quantity.
- Do not waste valuable space — Don’t include a cover sheet or index in your CV. Don’t be overly inclusive in relation to specific rotation dates and job duties unless this aids your application.
- Easy on the eye — Avoid using too many fonts and lots of different formatting styles (such as bold, underlining, and italics) as this will draw attention away from what matters the most in your CV—the content. Use the same font throughout. A “sans serif” style font, such as Arial is best as these are easier to read. Ensure that the layout, spacing, and structure of your CV are consistent throughout and do not differ from section to section.
- Avoid block after block of text — It is better to present your skills and achievements in a given section as bullet points rather than paragraph after paragraph of solid text as this can be off-putting and daunting to the reader. However, this does not mean that you cannot still use a narrative approach. The aim of a good CV is to make your experience and achievements leap off the page.
- Do not make things up — Your CV is a statement of fact, and if it is found to include information this can be very bad for your career.
*Never include a photo on your CV. Unless this is mandated.
What is a Career Goal Statement?
A Career Goal Statement is a summary of you as a candidate. What you are looking for and how you can bring value to the role and the employer. For further details check out this post.
Is there a recommended formula for referees?
For most posts its recommended that you get a mix of referees. At least one referee should have supervised or managed you in the last 6 months. Have at least one consultant from the specialty you are applying for. Try to have a mix of male and female and strongly consider having at least one referee who is outside of the medical profession.
Do I need anything else other than a CV to apply for a job?
The things you will generally also need to put in a job application are a cover letter and you will need to complete a form. Normally this form is online as part of the employer’s erecruitment system. If you have written your CV and cover letter well you probably have all the information you need to fill in the application, including addressing the selection criteria.