Expert Advice on Composing Your Medical School Curriculum Vitae


Future doctors like you are go-getters. You might enjoy feeling accomplished for a while after reaching a goal, but then you quickly move on. You recognize that many achievements are stepping stones that lead toward a larger goal.

Now that the initial excitement of becoming a medical student has worn off, you’re thinking about how to choose the right specialty and prepare for residency. Completing one of these postgraduate positions is just as important as going to medical school. You want to make sure you do whatever you can to be ready when it’s time to start applying to programs.

Even if you’re just beginning your first year of school, there are things you can do to set yourself on the right path. Working on your medical school curriculum vitae (CV) is a good way to get started. Your CV will be an important document throughout your career, so we’re taking a closer look at what it is and how to make sure yours is strong.

First, what is a curriculum vitae?

A CV is a document outlining your experience. It’s similar to a resume, but it’s significantly more thorough.

“A resume is only one or two pages—a summary—whereas a CV is the full chronicle of someone’s career,” explains Dr. Kate Tulenko, CEO of Corvus Health. “The CV will include academic papers, presentations, and other things that wouldn’t be on a resume.”

“The CV will include academic papers, presentations, and other things that wouldn’t be on a resume.”

Knowing the extensive nature of a CV, it’s important to be strategic about what to include and how to structure it. Keep reading for expert advice on compiling an impressive medical school CV.

What items should go on your medical school CV?

Before you get to the real meat of your CV, start off by listing your name, street address, email address, and phone number.

As for the actual content, you can use the template from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) as a guide. But note that there will be some differences. For example, professional experience typically appears near the end for medical students since they have not practiced medicine yet. Below is a good overview of both the items and the order in which they should go.

Items that should be on nearly every medical school CV

Education: Be sure to include every academic program that awarded you a degree. List the name of the institution, the location, the relevant dates, and the specific degree.

Awards and honors: This is the place to list any awards or scholarships you received in college and medical school. Special achievements from high school, such as acceptance into the National Honor Society, are also good to include.

Certificates and licensure: This section will become more relevant as you progress in your career, because it’s where you’ll list board certification and license information. Relevant credentials, such as emergency medical technician (EMT) certification, should also go in this section.

Not everyone agrees on this, but some experts recommend including your United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) performance here as well. “If you don’t include it, the committee might assume that it’s bad,” Dr. Tulenko warns. “They might assume it’s worse than it is.”

Research: While not every student chooses to become involved in research, many do. This experience can really help you stand out to certain residency programs. Even if the project you’re working on is still in progress, include it in your CV. Just be sure to note that it’s ongoing.

Publications: List published articles you have authored and co-authored, and include the full citation. For any articles with multiple authors, bold your name to make sure it’s clear. You can also include papers that have been accepted by a journal as long as you make a note that publication is forthcoming.

Presentations: You might want to combine this section with publications if both are relatively short, otherwise it’s nice to separate them. Cite any oral or poster presentations you’ve given at association meetings, symposiums, lectures, and other notable events.

Work experience: This section will be somewhat similar to a typical resume. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends stating your position, the organization name and address, your employment dates, and a brief description of duties you performed. Note you should only include medically related work experience on your medical school CV.

Professional organization memberships: It’s usually enough to simply list the organization if you’re just a member, but keep in mind that residency programs are looking for candidates with leadership skills.

“It’s definitely better to be involved in one or two associations where you’re the head or have a significant leadership role, rather than to be a member of 10 but not active in them,” Dr. Tulenko says.

Other interests: This section is certainly optional, but you’d be surprised how much nonacademic activities can matter. It all depends on what the interests say about you. “It would be really good to show in your CV that you’ve been able to achieve things that took a long time commitment,” Dr. Tulenko mentions. So if you’re an Eagle Scout or if you’ve completed a marathon, then this is where you could highlight it.

Additional items you may want to include

More and more, residency programs are looking for candidates who go above and beyond the basics. If you speak any languages other than English, you’ll definitely want to include that. You should also note your level of proficiency.

“If you include languages, especially Spanish, then make sure you can speak in that language at the level you say you can,” Dr. Tulenko warns.

"If you include languages, especially Spanish, then make sure you can speak in that language at the level you say you can."

Dr. Tulenko also suggests including any telemedicine experience you have as well as familiarity with various electronic medical records (EMR) software. Listing the specific software might sound silly, but it could be the deciding factor for residency programs comparing candidates.

“All other things being the same, if one person knows their EMR very well and the other person’s never worked with it, they would pick the person proficient in their EMR,” Dr. Tulenko explains.

References are also optional, but they can make a huge difference. This is a particularly good idea if you worked with a well-known physician during clinical rotations. You should check with references before listing them, though. You don’t want them to be caught off-guard, and you also want to make sure you choose colleagues who can accurately comment on your qualifications.

How should you format your medical school curriculum vitae?

The AAMC offers some great tips for formatting a CV. The most important things to remember are that you should list items in reverse chronological order and be as concise as possible.

Though figuring out how to format and write a CV might seem like a mystery, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Dr. Tulenko suggests putting yourself in the reader’s shoes and acknowledging that they’re going to be evaluating a lot of CVs. Your document needs to be easy to skim, so make use of bullets, bolded text, and underlining when appropriate.

"This is not a document that people are going to read top-to-bottom."

“This is not a document that people are going to read top-to-bottom,” Dr. Tulenko says. “You need those visual cues.”

A few other CV pointers

There are a few missteps you should avoid at all costs. Typos and grammatical errors obviously fall into this arena, but the biggest mistake you can make is lying. Any residency program or potential employer would eliminate you from the running for misrepresenting yourself.

You should also avoid trying to rush through your CV. “This isn’t something you want to do in a day,” Dr. Tulenko says. “It’s the type of thing you want to do, then go back and revise. Have it be an iterative process.”

"Have it be an iterative process."

Lastly, devote plenty of time to reviewing your CV before you declare yourself finished. Dr. Tulenko actually recommends having three separate individuals take a look: one person who’s focused primarily on formatting and proofreading, one close friend, and one person who doesn’t know you. Having a friend take a peek is a good way to make sure you’re representing yourself as best you can, while someone who you aren’t close to—perhaps a friend of a friend—will be able to offer bias-free insight.

Plan for your future

Composing your medical school CV can be intimidating when you’re just getting started. We hope these tips help you better understand what to include and how to put together this important document.

Once you have a solid CV, you’ll be one step closer to securing a residency. But there’s more to obtaining a postgraduate position than having stellar experiences and notable references. Learn more about residency matching and how to put your best foot forward by reading our article, “The Match: Explaining the Application Process and Your Residency Results.”

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