AWS BLOG

How to Maximize your CV in Medical School

By Faith Robertson

The curriculum vitae (loosely translated from Latin as “Course of life”) is a concise overview of your experiences and academic achievements over time. As a medical student, you will often be asked to provide a CV during applications for awards, grants, and scholarships, and on sub-internships for your specialty during 4th year rotations. Starting this document early on, and updating it periodically during your medical school journey, will not only help you prepare for those last minute grant opportunities, but also elucidate where you can continue to improve.
The rules for outline style and content are inexact, but we will briefly discuss pertinent points on how to Reorganize, Reevaluate, and Revive your CV.

1. Reorganize

Your CV should be easy to read. Period.

A study published by The Ladders (2012) tracked the eye movements of 30 professional recruiters as they reviewed job applicant’s resumes and online profiles. The results demonstrated the importance of how text organization dictates a reviewer’s course, that is, where and how long a person focuses when digesting information. Shockingly, this study revealed that while recruiters self-reported spending 4-5 minutes per resume, the study results demonstrated that most spent 6 seconds on their initial “fit/no fit” decision. Granted, this study’s credibility has been questioned due to method quality, but many agree, organization is key.

In general, your format should mirror the following:

• Education
• Honors/Awards
• Research Experience
• Service/Volunteer Activities (+/- Leadership within section or separate)
• Publications
• Submissions (for articles submitted but not yet published. Do not include articles in progress, as this work is covered under Research)
• Presentations (can divide into Oral and Poster)
• Professional Organizations
• Other Interests

If a category or heading does not apply to you, omit it; you can maintain a separate master version of your CV that contains these categories as placeholders for future updates. The AAMC has an excellent page on Preparing Your Curriculum Vitae that includes additional tips and templates, as does Vanderbilt School of Medicine.

2. Reevaluate

Now that you have augmented the aesthetics and organization of your CV, it is vital to assess the story you are telling. Yes, your CV represents the continuity and temporal accuracy of your current (and past) accomplishments, but it should also guide the reviewer in understanding your mission and vision. As mentioned above, maintaining a “Master CV document” can help you tailor your CV to the present goal/viewer to strengthen the impression you leave.

Request feedback from faculty or specialists in your desired field. Elicit whether or not they can clearly interpret your trajectory thus far, and envision where you are going. Where are your shortcomings, and how can you improve?
3. Revive

Taking feedback into consideration, it is time to reevaluate where you can spend time making your CV more robust. Perhaps there is a research project you can pursue to demonstrate your knowledge of and dedication to your desired specialty that can bridge your interests from college or pre-clinical years to the interests you hold now. Or if you notice that the majority of “Awards” listed were from high school and college, try surveying announcements for award opportunities; it might be worth sitting down to write for that essay contest you have seen advertised in the weekly student news.

Overall, continuous improvement and innovation are requirements for success in today’s hyper-competitive environment. At the 2016 AWS New England Exchange, Dr. Sandra Wong, Chief of Surgery at Dartmouth Hitchcock, discussed “What got you here won’t get you there.” This concept of continuous improvement is central to our journey as surgeons, and I hope this brief discussion about relaying your “course of life” will help you along the way.


Faith Robertson is a 4th year at Harvard Medical School, was the previous Vice Chair of the AWS National Medical Student Committee, and currently serves as an International Representative while taking a year-off to get an MSc in Global Surgery at King’s College London. Faith plans to pursue a career in Neurosurgery and Health Systems Improvement.

Twitter: @FaithCRobertson
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faithrobertson/

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Leave a Reply