Preparing your medical CV

Authors: Kathy Oxtoby 

Publication date:  12 Jan 2017


Kathy Oxtoby looks at the medical CV, how you can write one that works, and the importance of keeping it updated

Your CV is the story of your career as a clinician. These days doctors can expect to fill in a standard application form when they apply for a job in the NHS. But such forms tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach, asking for responses to generic questions that may not allow you to give all the relevant information about your skills and experience. You may also have experiences that don’t fit within the parameters of the form, such as working overseas, fellowships, or research.

Tom Bourke, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, says that having an up-to-date CV is valuable because you can simply transfer the details to your application form. Doctors applying for additional roles, such as training, or membership of a medical committee or royal college, are usually expected to provide a CV, he says.

CVs can be used alongside an application form, says Olivier Picard, managing director of ISC Medical, which provides interview training, CV writing, and application form services. He believes that although application forms “may enable employers to find information quickly, they are not good for candidates trying to portray exceptional ideas.”

Picard says that, in his experience, many trusts like clinicians to provide a CV. They appreciate having additional information that a form may not include, he says.

Keeping an up-to-date CV is valuable not only for applications and interviews but also when making preliminary inquiries about a role. Alexandra Cope, a consultant general and colorectal surgeon with Frimley Health at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, says that when booking an informal visit to meet a hospital department about a potential role it is important to send in a CV.

In that way, “the people who are potentially on the interviewing panel can build up a picture of what you will bring to the department and areas to talk about before they meet you,” Cope says. “I used to send my CV to every consultant surgeon in a department before I would apply for a job and ask if I could come to talk to them to find out more.”

What to include on your CV

A CV should be up to date. For experienced doctors who have done many different roles, having a full CV—a rolling document that gives all their details, such as research, academic work, and awards—is helpful when applying for new posts. Bourke says that this approach means that “when you apply for a post you have information readily available so you can pick relevant details out from your long CV to put in a shorter version.”

Having a long CV that keeps track of your achievements means you can then pick and choose information that is applicable to the job you’re applying for when sending your short CV. Bourke suggests a maximum of two or three pages. This strategy is more effective than sending long documents referring to a list of work carried out years ago that has no relevance to the post you are applying for. Sending a lengthy CV will not make the most of your current achievements and will waste the potential employer’s time.

Picard says, “A long winded document has no focus. What you want in a CV is something that summarises what you can offer an employer today.”

Gear your CV to the job description

When applying for a post and choosing information to put in your short CV it is important to look at the job description so your application meets the role’s requirements as much as possible. Picard suggests that typical areas to focus on will be clinical experience, teaching, and the ability to implement change.

The first page should attract attention, such as listing your qualifications, prizes, and awards. Jim Bolton, a consultant psychiatrist in London, recommends this approach because “you have to bear in mind that people may have a pile of CVs to review, so you need to make yours as easy and quick to review as possible.”

A medical CV will include clinical experience, which can be presented under separate headings. Bourke warns that there is a “temptation to list too much detail, which can be cumbersome for the person going through the application.” He advises highlighting your achievements rather than giving details of everything you’ve done.

A CV is an opportunity to “big yourself up,” Cope says. This means including achievements such as reviewing journals, securing funding for, say, a research fellowship, audits, presentations, and teaching experience.

At the end of the CV you may wish to include your hobbies and interests, as this will give a sense of who you are as an individual. You can also talk about public engagement activity, such as giving interviews to the media that highlight the value of a trust’s service. This, says Cope, “will look good to a potential employer because it shows you can promote an organisation.”

Even when you have completed and checked your CV this is not the end of the process. Bourke advises keeping it up to date between applications—this proves useful when applying to committees or when doing interviews, as “you can draw on your CV to answer questions.”

As Clare Gerada, a GP partner with the Hurley Group in South London, says, “A CV tells a story about a person. And it’s better to add to it than to forget to mention your experiences.”

Key tips to getting your medical CV right

Personal statement

Typically a medical CV starts with a personal statement. As Tom Bourke explains, this is “something to declare—a career intention tailored to the post you are applying for.”

He says, “For example, if you are midway through training and applying for a specialist post you should highlight your interest in that specialty.”

A personal statement should include your strengths—“in a nutshell, what you are all about,” says Picard, who recommends keeping this section short and to the point—“no more than 10 lines.”

The power of words

In terms of the tone of a CV, Olivier Picard says that one of the main criticisms he finds with clinicians applying for consultant positions is that they can come across as though they are still a trainee when they “should be in the mindset that they are a senior doctor.”

Applications are often let down by their use of language, with phrases such as “I’ve been involved in a number of audits,” or “I attend meetings on a regular basis.” Picard says, “What does this actually mean? It’s loose wording.” He believes that doctors need to use words that actually indicate their behaviour or role, such as “contributed,” “modernised,” “drafted,” “implemented,” and “introduced.”

Correct spelling and accuracy are essential. Clare Gerada says that doctors need to get their “postnominals right,” checking that they are in the correct style. Postnominals such as degrees and royal college memberships can be muddled, wrongly punctuated, or in the wrong order, she points out.

Layout

When it comes to laying out your CV there is no gold standard, says Jim Bolton. “There are many opinions about how to lay out the perfect CV,” he says. “But it is worth showing a draft to a supervisor or a colleague experienced in interviewing and reviewing CVs, to get their comments.”

There are, however, some dos and don’ts to remember, and these can make all the difference between getting an interview or being put on the rejection pile.

Clarity is key. Bourke advises using short sentences and bullet points to make it easy for the reader to take in the information. He also emphasises the importance of simplicity. “Don’t try to be too fancy with artwork or software—make sure that your CV does not look like a case of style over substance,” he says.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

Kathy Oxtoby freelance journalist

 kathyoxtoby@blueyonder.co.uk

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: