Advice for creating a physician CV that works
Advice for creating a physician CV that works

CV prep

Building a CV that works

Table of Contents

Adding a bit of color in your email or cover letter can help your CV stand out. “These are the first words they read that are not in a robotic format, so they give the employer a flavor of who you are,” says Alexander Hamling, M.D. - Photo by Erin Schedler
Adding a bit of color in your email or cover letter can help your physician CV stand out. “These are the first words they read that are not in a robotic format, so they give the employer a flavor of who you are,” says Alexander Hamling, M.D. – Photo by Erin Schedler

No matter how confident you are in your job-search package or presentation, you won’t win an interview unless people have an initial sense of who you are, what you might bring to the table, and if you’re a potential fit.

Obviously, it’s up to you to eventually make the sale. Your profile and personality will carry significant weight when it comes to whether or not you get the job—but it’s your CV that opens doors.

Everybody says you only get one chance to make a first impression,” says Kip Aitken, director of physician recruitment for Sterling, Illinois-based CGH Medical Center. “Your CV is often that first impression. It’s critically important.”

So, how to make your CV work for you? Focus on organization, formatting and a few other basics.

Your CV should convey your education and experience in such a well-defined way that recruiters and managing physicians can quickly determine who you are, what specialty you’ve pursued, and why your background merits a closer look. 

You want to give anyone in the hiring food chain a distinct picture to determine if you check off all of the boxes related to a given job.

“If it’s disorganized, not legible or just doesn’t look right, that’s a red flag,” says Jana Mastandrea, FASPR, senior provider recruiter for Seattle-based Provider Solutions + Development, Providence St. Joseph’s Health. “If you don’t look good on paper, you’re not going to get a call back. It needs to be professional.”

Despite the plethora of templates available to accomplish that goal, there still is no one format for a winning CV. The information you need to provide—training, work experience, certifications and other credentials plus unique skills—is pretty cut and dried. How you arrange it, however, is not necessarily so.

“I honestly don’t think that there’s one size fits all,” Misty Daniels, FASPR, director of physician recruitment for Charleston-based Medical University of South Carolina, says of the format. “But reverse chronological order is the easiest because I can see where you are and what you’re doing right now.”

Whatever the structure, you want to make sure that your CV doesn’t meander. “I want to see a logical layout in a time-oriented way that makes sense to me so that I can easily, without undue hassle or undue time, figure it out,” says Bruce Guyant, systems director of provider recruiting and retention for Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based Covenant Health.

You’ll need to keep these key components in your crosshairs:

Contact information

Make it front and center. Top the document with your formal name, M.D. or D.O., home address, telephone number and email address. Also placing your specialty and board certification under your name gives recruiters an instant heads-up as to two major qualifications.


If you’re a physician just leaving training, your education—fellowship or residency, followed by internships and medical school—will constitute the first section. 

Within that structure, list correct dates, formal names of institutions, programs and your field of study along with other relevant information. Ditto on similar information for any advanced degree you’ve undertaken or any undergraduate major you’ve pursued.

Work experience

If you’re already in the workforce, your initial block should focus on that experience, leading with your latest position. Make sure to include titles, roles and any other pertinent parts of the job, such as academic, hospital or other clinical appointments and privileges. 

Keep your fellowship and residency in training, not in this section. “I don’t consider candidates to have work experience until they get out of their residency or fellowships,” says Marshall Poole, FASPR, physician recruiter for Northeast Georgia Health System.


Start with every medical license you hold or have held and every specialty board and other certification you’ve achieved. Even if you’re “eligible,” let people know.


If you’ve collaborated on a project during training, obviously that information is ripe for here. But if this is an ongoing part of your career, threading through current and past positions, separate the details into another block. 

Note the name and focus of your studies and that of any principle investigator with whom you’ve collaborated. Details count, so pay attention to proper names of places plus start and end dates.


You may have enough material for a section drawing attention to those peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters or other periodicals that bear your name as a lead author or contributor. 

If you’ve given talks or participated in clinical panels or roundtables, make sure you list them too. Although the information might not strike a chord with a recruiter, hiring physicians may want to know more. 

Also, any scholarships, awards or other honors that you’ve lassoed along the way or organization or committee memberships that you’ve held deserve individual section notes.

Other skills and proficiencies 

Identifying any special procedural skills or unique qualifications can be important. For instance, if you can converse in a second language, make it known on your CV. But only offer languages for which you can have a meaningful dialogue about someone’s medical issues. 

“I wouldn’t mention that you’re conversational in German or Japanese if you don’t feel comfortable conducting an interview in that language,” says Alexander Hamling, M.D., MBA, FAAP, a pediatrician for Seattle-based Pacific Medical Centers.

Formatting basics

You can’t achieve an aesthetically-pleasing, easy-to-navigate CV if the margins are uneven, the spacing is awkward and you’ve used difficult-to-read typefaces. When you don’t have unanimity, you’re sending a message that you’re not good with particulars, say recruiters. 

As Aitken notes: “The lack of attention to detail makes me wonder how good this physician’s documentation will be and how much attention will be given to patient care. If the only thing I have to judge is a CV, it better look like someone is attentive.”

To create a clean, consistent and visually-balanced document, consider these starting points:

Think typeface. Select a typeface that not only displays your accomplishments, but also invites recruiters to continue reading. When in doubt, Times New Roman or Arial are tried-and-true workhorses. Make sure what you select is crisp, clean and computer compatible.

Structure counts. A pleasing-to-the-eye CV depends on balance, and balance depends on how you align the words and utilize white space. If you’re using a template, you won’t have to worry about parameters since they’ll be built in. It’s still to your benefit to know, however, that standard margins usually call for one inch on all sides.

Make sure your CV covers your career highlights. “They won’t magically know, and they may not ask,” reminds Lenore DePagter, D.O. - Photo by Cheko Tapia

Make sure your CV covers your career highlights. “They won’t magically know, and they may not ask,” reminds Lenore DePagter, D.O. – Photo by Cheko Tapia

Other need-to-know CV basics


It depends on where you are in your career and what type of opportunity you’ve targeted. 

If you’re looking for an academic appointment and already have significant research, teaching and clinical years in your wheelhouse, the page count could be well into the double digits. (You might even need an appendix.) But if you’re just out of residency or fellowship with an eye on a clinical slot, you’ll be able to make your case in short order. 

Two to four pages may be enough to cover the basics. Whatever your background, you’re actually creating your CV for two audiences: The recruiter who’s interested in a quick evaluation of your qualifications, and the hiring physicians who may relish delving into the granular parts.


Naming people on your CV means that they can be contacted without delay. Depending on their reputations, they may even add credence to your candidacy before a word is exchanged about you. 

“Just seeing the name,” says Guyant, “sometimes adds a level of assurance.” By keeping them close until asked, however, you can help your choices tailor a more effective response.

Something personal. Recruiters are mixed as to the advisability of listing hobbies or interests on a professional bio. Purists who want a document devoted solely to your medical skills say the information is superfluous. But for someone who likes seeing candidates in a broader context, getting personal can help define a candidate in differing ways. 

For instance, Aitken reviews half a dozen bios every day and welcomes a few lines tucked into a CV revealing why an applicant is interested in his medical center. “I’m looking at each CV to see if there’s some tie to a small town in the Midwest or some reason why I should take up the candidate’s time and my time with a phone call to learn a little bit more,” Aitken says.

Roberta Gebhard, D.O., president-elect of the American Medical Women’s Association, counts among her friends an adventure medicine enthusiast who splits time between her jobs as an emergency medicine physician and a whitewater rafting guide. 

Would that intrigue a prospective boss? Absolutely, she says, noting anything that fosters interest, leads to common talking points, and links you with potential colleagues can be helpful. “You want to offer something that sparks a connection with you or that gets you into the door,” Gebhard says.

Updates and versions. Given that physicians often have multiple aspects to their careers—and recruiters like seeing CVs and cover letters targeted to their openings—there are plenty of reasons to have more than one version of your CV. 

Kennedy Ganti, M.D., FAAFP, assistant professor of medicine for New Jersey-based Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, for instance, is boarded both in family medicine and clinical informatics. If he’s asked to speak at a clinical workshop or conference, not surprisingly he forwards a CV calibrated to those experiences. 

If someone wants to tap his extensive work in health IT and clinical informatics, however, he offers a bio that speaks directly to those skills. “I typically advise my residents and students as they move forward to be very, very specific about what they want and very specific with their CVs,” Ganti says. 

“You need to generate various iterations for the different opportunities that you’re deciding.”

The finishing touch

Creating a great CV won’t get you anywhere unless you have a polished end product. To put a bow on the package, consider these points.

Get outside help. If your CV-writing skills are wanting, it’s smart to invest in professional help. “Whatever you need to do to have a good high-quality professional-looking CV, you need to do it,” says Aitken.

Daniels recalls a friend who wasn’t getting any job bites with his current CV. She realized immediately that the bio he had created didn’t reflect what she knew about him—that he was a great physician, beloved by his patients. 

Daniels suggested working with an outside firm to revise the document. Once he had a new CV fully demonstrating his talents, he quickly snagged his next job. “If you recognize that this is not a skill set of yours, I would certainly encourage you to work with people who can help you—particularly if you’re in training and you haven’t done this before,” says Daniels.

Edit and edit again. Even if you don’t hire a pro to craft your CV, you want an extra set of eyes to take a serious look. 

“It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion,” says Jennifer Feddersen, FASPR, director executive of physician and advanced practice providers recruitment for Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System. “It’s even better if you have a friend in HR or a recruiter who can look for common misspellings and mistakes.”

Format for clean effects. Recruiters suggest converting your CV into a PDF to make sure it holds its formatting shape between your computer and that of any recruiter.

Final thoughts

You’ll have many particulars to consider in creating a winning CV. Keep in mind, however, that both you and any potential future employer are working toward the same goal—avoiding buyer’s remorse!

Your challenge is to target the right opportunities with a CV that makes a strong case for you. Since reputation, backed up by evidence, usually wins the day, present yourself in the most complete, compelling light possible.

“Physicians often feel like ‘My CV should speak for itself and I don’t have to change it,’” Lenore DePagter, D.O., MBA, medical director of McAllen, Texas-based Cigna-HealthSpring, says. “But sometimes you really have to tell them, ‘Yes, I’m a physician, but I’ve also worked in academic environments, done research, served on committees and led groups.’ They won’t magically know, and they may not ask.”

“Our role is to help both sides make well-informed decisions so that the hiring manager, medical director or department chair feels great about who’ve they’ve hired,” Daniels says, “and the candidate feels great about the organization they’ve joined.”

Your profile and personality will carry significant weight when it comes to whether or not you get the job, but it’s your CV that opens doors.

Your challenge is to target the right opportunities with a physician CV that makes a strong case for you.


Chris Hinz

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