It’s a competitive market for physicians. Learn how to craft effective resumes and cover letters through CV optimization.
It’s a competitive market for physicians. Learn how to craft effective resumes and cover letters through CV optimization.

CV prep

How to optimize your CV

Table of Contents

It’s a competitive market for physicians. Learn how to craft effective resumes and cover letters to find the job of your dreams.

The demand for physicians and other healthcare practitioners is high. So just as you keep up with the latest best practices in your field, you also should keep up with best practices on your résumé and CV optimization. A weak one can cause you to be passed over in spite of your strong qualifications.

In general, a good CV or résumé is specific, true, achievement-focused and relevant. There are a few simple procedures you can perform on your résumé to optimize outcomes. Based on input from seasoned recruiters, here are tips to make it easy for recruiters to find you and match your qualifications to an organization’s needs.

Streamline your CV or resume’s formatting

Most recruiters use search engines and applicant tracking systems (ATSs) to find and process CVs. These tools have parsing functions to scan and pull information.

If your CV has graphics, text boxes, unusual bullet styles and frilly fonts or other fancy formatting, it may confuse the parsing function, which could result in your CV being passed over by search engines or mishandled by an ATS.

Spell out acronyms and include keywords to help with search engine optimization. A few carefully chosen keywords will work better than an overdose of semi-relevant ones.

Keywords will include your areas of specialty, so they probably will show up as you list your education and career history. However, use the more common terms that recruiters are likely to use when searching. For example, use “coronary angioplasty” rather than “percutaneous coronary intervention.”

Know whether you need a résumé or CV

“Short and sweet” is a good rule of thumb, but an academic or clinician is more likely to use a curriculum vitae (CV) than a résumé. Depending on your definition of the two terms, you may want to create both or at least a hybrid.

Some consider a CV a simple listing and a résumé as a creative tool for “selling” yourself. You can create a hybrid by formatting the first two pages as a résumé and then set up additional pages as a CV-style list.

While a résumé in just about any other profession should be no longer than two pages, a CV can run several pages long. Be sure to include all your education, including residencies and fellowship training. List the following—especially the most relevant:

  • Honors
  • Awards
  • Patents
  • Speaking engagements
  • Publications

Creating a CV is not an open invitation to be verbose. For example, while you definitely want to list accomplishments for each position, list no more than five under each position. Choose accomplishments that are not only significant but also relevant to the position for which you’re applying.

Make sure your achievements shine

Recruiters will be looking for your ability to deliver results, so list your key achievements. Be specific about the goals you achieved. Rather than something vague like, “led new process implementation,” state what the new process was, your role in the project and the impact on the organization.

Share numbers

Across industries, there is an increasing focus on metrics. The more you can quantify your accomplishments, the better. You can use actual numbers (such as “Launched asthma community outreach program and enrolled 125 patients”) or percentages (“Developed new ablation method reducing procedure time by an average of 7 percent”).

Either way, provide enough context to show the impact. For example, if your objective was to reduce procedure time by 5 percent, make it clear that you exceeded the goal.

Decide whether to include a cover letter

You’ll need to decide this on a case-by-case basis, but in general, the answer is “no.” The recruiters we talked to said they deal with information overload just like everyone else, and they rarely pay much attention to cover letters.

In addition, a cover letter is essentially another page susceptible to infection by typos and grammatical errors.

However, some employers will ask for a cover letter. In that case, apply the same approach you’re using with your résumé: specific, true, achievement-focused and relevant. Treat it as an executive summary, tailor it to the open position and organization, and limit it to one page.

For example, if you’re applying for a leadership position in the joint replacement program at a large medical center, explain how your background and experience are directly relevant and set you up for success in the role. If you’re applying for a role in a different location, communicate why you’re planning a move.

Don’t hide any gaps

Plenty of people take breaks during their career, and they aren’t automatic black marks. Maybe you took time for additional schooling (a medical degree plus an MHA or MPA can be powerful combination) or moved to a new state because your spouse was transferred.

A legitimate gap only becomes a problem when you try to gloss over it. Smart recruiters will spot gaps, and without an explanation, they may jump to their own conclusions.

List the gap in the chronology of your career along with jobs, including dates and a brief explanation. Just the same, be careful about providing too much information, like your age, relationships or children. Employers aren’t allowed to ask for that kind of information, and you shouldn’t offer it.

Pay attention to the first impressions you give

Think of your CV as your envoy in the talent market. You want that envoy to represent you in the best light. Even if you aren’t actively looking for a new position, a solid, up-to-date CV can benefit you. Post it to relevant professional job boards, and a recruiter just might bring an interesting opportunity to your attention.

Overall, a good CV helps you optimize your market presence.

Nicole Cox is chief recruitment officer at She oversees all corporate recruiting operations for the organization. Tom Brennan is senior writer at Decision Toolbox.


Nicole Cox and Tom Brennan

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