Though the M.D. after your name does designate medical expertise and years of hard work, it does not give you a free pass on your physician CV.
You must still convey to employers what, beyond your degree, makes you a good candidate. This is true now more than ever as increasing numbers of physicians seek hospital employment rather than private practice opportunities.
“Increasingly physicians are working for somebody,” says John Murphy, M.D., CEO of Delaware Valley Urology in New Jersey. “They’re team members within larger organizations, and how they’re recruited has changed to align with hiring in other industries.”
Christy Bray Ricks, a physician recruiter for Banner Health in Greeley, Colorado, echoes the same point: “Moving from a landscape of lots of independent practices, where you might hire one person every 10 years, to filling hundreds of positions for health systems—the volume is significantly higher, which means the level of competition is also higher.”
The competition is where I come in. As a resume expert, I spend my days helping physicians and others create the CVs they need to stand out in this new recruitment environment.
Over the years, I’ve identified six aspects every physician needs to evaluate about his or her CV—but that might be missing from yours. Succeed across them and you’ll drastically improve the amount of attention you receive during a job search.
CV tip #1: Chronological continuity
Clarity equals credibility in the world of CVs. No recruiter wants to open a physician’s CV and have to spend the next 20 minutes going line by line to figure out the timeline.
“I like to see a narrative in the CV with a clear sense of why an applicant has pursued particular education, training and opportunities,” says Vandana Madhavan, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist who works for MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts.
So how do you create that narrative?
Before I explain, take a look at the CV below that fails to create a narrative. Can you spot the issues?
Here are some of the biggest errors:
- Unclear timeline. When did training start and professional experience begin? How does one relate to the other? It’s nearly impossible to tell.
- Inconsistency. Why is the work history going in chronological order when the education is in reverse chronological order? This looks sloppy.
- Failure to answer the biggest questions. What is this physician doing now? You have to hunt through each line before realizing he currently holds a staff surgeon position with Bilbo Regional Medical Center.
- Lack of detail about procedures and appointment specifics. “It’s important to highlight aspects of your experience that can’t be gleaned through your credentials,” says Daniel Cusator, M.D., CEO at Cusator Healthcare Consulting in Nashville, Tennessee. “How did you add value?”
Now take a look at the next CV, a version that has been revised to address these points. What can we glean from this example?
- Use reverse chronological order. This is the clearest way to convey your current status and history. Include start and end month and year. Address any gaps in the postdoctoral or work experience sections, and make it an unbroken timeline.
- Simplify with sections. Split publications, presentations and research into three subsections, and include dates for all. Use reverse chronological order here as well.
- Include professional affiliations and community involvement/volunteering. Dates are optional here.
CV tip #2: Plan for addressing red flags
If you think you can hide potential deal-breakers with a cluttered CV, think again. All this will do is prevent you from being considered in the first place.
“Hopping around, spending less than two years at a position—that’s a definite yellow flag,” says Ricks. “It won’t disqualify you, but it’ll definitely be brought up during our first conversation.”
Avoid unnecessary confrontation by addressing your red or yellow flags upfront when possible—whether they’re work gaps, short stays in previous positions or visa status issues.
If you have a break in your work history, add a short “Career Note” (one or two lines) directly within the timeline of your CV to address it. Here’s an example:
CAREER NOTE: Took leave of absence between 2/08 and 2/09 to provide critical support to family members.
This not only answers the question of your timeline gap but also gives a glimpse into your life outside work.
If you’ve held multiple locum tenens positions, it’s usually a good move to consolidate them within a single locum tenens section. That prevents an at-a-glance impression that you’re a job hopper.
For non-locum tenens positions of short duration, it’s better to be prepared to explain during the interview. “Anything that is included on a CV is fair game,” stresses Madhavan. “Be prepared to follow through in detail.”
It’s also important for international candidates to be forthright about their visa statuses. “Many healthcare systems just aren’t in a position to support a visa, so it’s better for all concerned that you clarify this on the CV so we can focus on positions you can actually land,” says Wonona Davis, physician recruiter, western region, for HNI Healthcare in Southern California.
CV tip #3: Create a screen-friendly layout
Want to know the secret to a great resume layout? It’s not having a huge number of bells and whistles; it’s keeping the document clean and simple, thereby drawing attention to what matters most, the content.
“I can’t remember the last time I printed out a CV,” says Ricks, “but so many of the CVs I see are laid out in a way that would only work on the page.”
Can your CV pass close scrutiny when viewed on a computer screen or, increasingly, within the tiny confines of a phone screen? Here are some questions to ask to determine this:
Is my CV easy to open and download? Ease of use starts with a commonly accepted file format. In most cases, you’ll want to send your CV in PDF format because it’s more secure than MS Word.
Avoid less-common software such as Apple Pages or WordPerfect—this can cause a host of viewing issues. Send over your cover letter and CV as one file when using email. It significantly enhances the chances of both documents getting read and makes it look like a package instead of just another CV.
Is my CV easy to read? Complex graphics and formatting can really tank a CV’s impact when viewed on mobile devices. Use easy-to-read fonts like Arial, Garamond, Verdana and Tahoma. Keep font sizes consistent throughout the document (e.g. size 14 for all titles, size 12 for all content). Stick to a white background and black text. Unusual colors draw attention for all the wrong reasons.
Have I included relevant links (and do they work)? One big advantage to mobile devices is that a recruiter or hiring agent can just tap on your email address or LinkedIn URL and send you a message instantly. Make sure the link to your email address is right at the top of your CV and that it’s functioning (see sidebar on adding a link to a PDF).
Is it easy to skim? Gigantic paragraphs don’t work on CVs. It’s an appetizer, not the main course. Keep lines short and action-oriented and use bullets liberally.
Here’s an example:
Thoracic Surgery Clinical Fellow
- Performed a total of 450 thoracic surgery cases throughout fellowship, including critical care management of patients, advanced endoscopic treatment of malignant esophageal disorders, minimally invasive thoracic surgery (VATS wedge resections, VATS pleurodesis, VATS decortication), as well as lung transplant organ procurements.
- Delivered hands-on training to junior general surgery residents and anesthesia residents in the thoracic surgery ICU.
Finally, once you’ve made these tweaks, email the CV to yourself and load it on your phone and other devices to see how it looks.
CV tip #4: Show your human side
Your CV should show more than just your credentials, however. It’s also important to show a bit of your character.
“Culture fit is very important when it comes to vetting physicians,” says Ricks. “We ask a lot of behavioral questions, questions about patient-centered care, why you got into medicine. You’ve got to be able to articulate all of that.”
Addressing some of these points within the CV is a powerful way to make a great impression even before you get to the interview. Here are some ways to do it:
Include a “Doctor’s Philosophy” statement at the start of the CV that addresses how you approach the job. Examples:
Providing compassionate, quality cancer care and giving patients the knowledge to make the most empowered decisions about their diagnoses.
My philosophy of care is to treat each patient as I would treat my own family. I grew up watching my father, a surgeon, take as much time as necessary to build relationships with patients and their families, and establish trust. It’s a lesson I carry on today.
Include excerpts from patient surveys (anonymized). Examples:
“She takes her time with me, doesn’t rush me, and she explains everything very well.”
“James Wilson is great—the most caring and compassionate surgeon I have ever had! He gave me real hope for a successful outcome, which I so needed!”
Include a “Non-Clinical Interests” section at the end of the resume. Example:
Interested in organized medicine and advocacy; public speaking; non-profit organizations; health care delivery, cost effectiveness and quality; health care administration
Include a “Volunteering/Community Involvement” section at the end of the resume, and briefly elaborate on major initiatives and projects you took on. Example:
Spearhead our neighborhood’s annual ALS awareness fundraiser 5k run/walk. Participate in the Big Brothers program of Greater Chicago.
Include a “Special Interests” section at the end of the CV listing things you like to do outside of work. Example:
Mountain biking, classic movies, hiking, gardening.
These additions foster a connection with the reader and offer a glimpse of your life beyond scrubs.
“Who you are has become nearly as important as the depth of your experience,” says Murphy. “It’s something you’ll want to pay close attention to on the CV.”
CV tip #5: Implement strategic emphasis and de-emphasis
Imagine for a moment that you’re conducting an interview and have just asked a candidate a question. Rather than simply answering it, this person proceeds to spend the next five minutes rambling on about everything except what’s relevant. You’d probably be a little peeved, right?
The same principle applies to CVs. The more clearly you understand your goal and can tailor the document accordingly, the more effectively you can answer the questions any recruiter or hiring agent will have during that initial scan.
To understand your goal and answer their questions, you must identify, with precision, exactly what an ideal outcome looks like for you. Are you looking for a primarily clinical or academic role? Are you looking to join a small practice with a track towards becoming a partner, or a dedicated patient care role? Your answers here will determine what you highlight (and what you don’t) in the CV.
“I made a decision several years ago to move from a position that was largely clinical to one of physician executive leadership. Totally different jobs, with altogether different tickets to punch,” says Murphy, a certified physician executive who also holds an MBA and practiced as a reproductive endocrinologist before transitioning to the physician executive track.
Totally different jobs merit totally different CVs. You must cast a critical eye on your CV and ask yourself: Am I giving my audience what they expect? If you’re going after a role with zero research involved, then you probably don’t need those two pages of research credits on the current version of your CV. If you’re simultaneously going after more than one type of position, avoid the temptation to create a one-size-fits-all document.
“At one point I had three completely different CVs in my toolbox: one for academic roles, one for clinical roles and one for physician leadership, with the latter stressing behavioral aspects,” says Cusator.
Once you’ve considered your goal and recruiters’ expectations, expand on the positions related to what you want. If you’re seeking a physician executive role and your last position had a solid leadership component, don’t just leave it as “Attending Physician” and call it a day! If you helped attain a certification or launched a new medical service, insert bullet points that make this clear.
Similarly, consolidate the aspects of your work experience that stray from your current goals. If it’s not relevant, de-emphasize it to save both space and time.
6. An Effective Search Strategy
Now that you’ve worked hard to get your CV in tip-top shape, don’t blow it by blasting it out indiscriminately—or by never sending it at all! Here are some ground rules to keep in mind:
Know your preferred location. Send your CV to in-house recruiters in these areas. Every recruiter I spoke to brought up the importance of knowing where you want to land.
Do your research! It’s important to get the “lay of the land” when it comes to your targeted regions. Which organizations are the major players? Which do you want to work for? What’s the quality of life like in the area? “I love it when a physician can clearly answer why [he or she wants to work for an organization],” says Ricks. “It shows they’re looking to make a real investment in their next role, and employers love that.”
Put your CV online. By uploading your CV to physician job sites like PracticeLink.com or PhysicianCV.com, you can instantly get it in front of hiring recruiters looking for candidates like you. Think of your new CV like an online dating profile; all those details serve to help the right fit find you.
A great CV is a reflection of who you are and where you want to go next, and it highlights the aspects of your work history that are most likely to get you there.
Investing the time to strip it to the bare bones and rebuild it according to these six aspects is what separates the 95 percent of candidates who land something from the 5 percent who land the very best. Evaluate what you’re looking for, evaluate your CV, and take the time to present what you do more effectively.
Anish Majumdar, CEO of ResumeOrbit.com, is a nationally recognized resume and CV writer, LinkedIn expert and interview coach. Surveyed physicians who worked with him report a 50 percent reduction in placement times and usually negotiate significantly higher offers.