Ted R. Melnick, MD


July 03, 2008

How can I develop a good curriculum vitae (CV)? How important are areas such as volunteer work, outside clinical work, hobbies, sports, foreign languages, etc?

Response from Ted R. Melnick, MD
Chief Resident, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; House Staff, The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, NY

To develop a good curriculum vitae (CV), it is important to realize the function it will have in the residency application process. Namely, your CV is a tool for acquiring interviews and guiding the conversation during those interviews. Understanding this functionality makes it imperative to focus not only on the content, but also on a format that attracts and facilitates interviews.

Bear in mind that the audience reading your CV will be reviewing dozens, if not hundreds, of other CVs. A bleary-eyed, busy physician may not give your CV the time it deserves if it is not easy to read. You want to leave the reader wanting more, not less. Ideally, the potential interviewer will want to know more about an experience listed on your CV, prompting them to invite you for an interview.

How is this done? Well, even though this may seem counterintuitive, the page should have more blank space than text. Wall-to-wall print is overwhelming and difficult to read. If you have a lot of accomplishments, that's great. But be sure that the ones you are trying to highlight are not lost in a big list. Don't include anything on your CV that you would not want to become the main focus of an interview. This may mean removing some smaller endeavors to emphasize more important achievements, which should pop off the page and grab the reader's attention. Use bold, underlined, and italic lettering in appropriate areas. Think of your CV as a list of talking points for your interview.

In most cases, CVs are now submitted online through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). This means that you must format your CV within the confines of the ERAS format. You can familiarize yourself with this format by using the MyERAS Application Worksheet or by asking someone who has recently completed an ERAS application to share it with you. The ERAS application is divided into these categories: Education, Experience (Work, Research, or Volunteer), Publications, Languages, Hobbies and Interests, Awards, Accomplishments, and Memberships in Honorary or Professional Societies.

Developing experiences within each of these categories will help you produce a successful CV. Residency program directors will review it to determine whether you will be a diligent resident, a good addition to their program, and potentially even a leader in their field. When you are choosing how to spend your limited extracurricular time in medical school, it may help to think of the ERAS categories the way a program director would view them. Imagine a program director going through this thought process:

  • Education: Does the applicant's medical school have a history of producing residents who have done well in our department or hospital?

  • Experience: Has the applicant engaged in activities that will have prepared him or her to be a diligent resident?

  • Publications, awards, and accomplishments: Has the applicant shown a commitment to success among his or her peers or a dedication to improving the medical literature? Might he or she bring national attention to my program or become a leader in our field?

  • Languages: Many of our patients speak language "X", and the applicant speaks it, too; this will be very useful in the clinical setting.

  • Hobbies and interests: Does the applicant have any interests in common with my faculty, my residents, or myself? (This could easily become a main topic of conversation in the interview.)

  • Memberships in honorary or professional societies: This applicant clearly has an appreciation for the professional community within which they will be practicing.

Finally, these tips may help with the nuts and bolts of developing a good CV:

  • Update it regularly to avoid forgetting important accomplishments, and to save time when you finally start the application process;

  • Ask several people to review your CV for typos, spelling, and grammatical errors. Such errors can be detrimental to an otherwise strong application; and

  • Use Getting into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students[1] as an additional resource, both for CV development and for the residency application process in general.

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