Medical School Life

6 keys to creating a medical student CV that sets you apart

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

6 keys to creating a medical student CV that sets you apart

May 22, 2024

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a summary of one’s past accomplishments. For medical students, it is a document that can have a bearing on one’s future.

By definition, a CV is used by professionals in the fields of academia, medicine, teaching and research as an overview of accomplishments that are relevant to the academic realm. While medical student CV templates, samples and examples are starting points, as medical students get further into building out their CVs there are a few essential pieces of advice that they should not overlook.

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A résumé reflects work and education experience, but a CV is more ambitious, according to Michael G. Kavan, PhD, associate dean for student affairs at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska.

“The résumé format is much different than what you get with a CV,” said Kavan, whose training is in counseling psychology and who is also is a professor in Creighton’s family and community medicine department. “A résumé is a one-page summary of what you’ve done. A CV is going to be longer than that. It might be two pages or 10 pages. Either is fine if you trim additional fluff and follow the right format.”

There are other notable differences between a CV and a résumé, including:

  • Education is always listed first on a CV.
  • A CV rarely lists an objective or has a long narrative profile. If you would like to explain why you are an ideal candidate for a position, include this as part of your cover letter.
  • Name-dropping is more common in a CV than in a résumé. For example, if you performed research under a certain professor, you would include their name and title in your CV.
  • A CV should be neatly organized, with clear headings and distinct conceptual divisions. Experience may be divided by using headings such as “teaching” or “research.” Education may be divided between “degrees” and “advanced training” or similar.
  • Entries within each section should be listed in reverse chronological order (start with most recent and move back in time).

For students starting to construct their CV, Kavan recommends they draw from any information they compiled while applying for medical school and build on that. It’s also wise to follow a CV template.

“I provide students with a CV template, which I think is very helpful for them to see the structure and how to go about describing experiences,” Kavan said.

Dr. Kavan’s sample CV is available for download (PDF), and the Association of American Medical Colleges also offers a downloadable medical student CV template on its website. Your medical school also likely can give you excellent medical student CV templates, samples or examples.

There is some variation to the order of how the document should be listed, but to start with a medical student CV should include:

  • Contact information: Your full legal name and current address, phone number or email address.
  • Education: List the most recent institution first—your medical school—with the name of the institution, degree received and dates. You will then follow it with any graduate and undergraduate schooling.
  • Academics: This should include honors and awards and course performance.

The document should end with headings that highlight one’s professional memberships—including groups such as the AMA—and hobbies and interests, which can help make your CV more memorable.

Between those first and last headings, Kavan said a CV should also have sections that highlight a student’s:

  • Presentations and publications.
  • Research activities.
  • Leadership experiences.
  • Community service work.
  • Employment. 

For many medical students, the first time they use their CV professionally may be when they apply for extramural electives, but more often during the residency-application process. Kavan said the order of that middle portion of the CV can be shaped by a student’s breadth of experience and what type of specialty they plan on applying to.

“I look at each of those sections of the CVs as a bucket a medical student is going to want to fill during training,” he said. “That said, if you go into neurological surgery, your research bucket probably needs to be deeper and more prominently highlighted on your CV than if you were going into pediatrics or family medicine. But if you are going into family medicine, your community service bucket might need to be fuller than it would for neurological surgery.”

When ordering your CV, it’s also important to put your stronger buckets, or those you want to emphasize most, first.

“If you only had one research presentation but you were active in leadership and, community service— maybe you managed your medical school’s student-run clinic—you certainly wouldn’t want to put research ahead of all that you’ve done with community service and leadership,” Kavan said.

Activities listed on a CV should contain brief descriptions with strong verbiage that details each experience.

“A CV is a summary of your academic career as opposed to a novel,” Kavan said. “You want to provide useful descriptions for each activity, but you don't want them to be too verbose.  

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“It's always good to have a bullet or two underneath each entry,” he added. “If people want to know more, they can always ask you during the interview process.”

Two common strategies you can use while writing a CV are gapping and parallelism. Gapping is the use of incomplete sentences to present your information concisely. By using incomplete sentences, you cut out unnecessary words but convey the responsibilities of the position.

Parallelism means keeping the structure of your phrases consistent throughout a document. For example, if you use verb phrases in one portion of your CV to describe duties, use them throughout. Verb phrases are a strong way to describe responsibilities. Use the present tense for roles you currently hold and past tense for former roles or activities.

An up-to-date medical student CV can yield benefits—such as internships, research opportunities and key visiting rotations during medical school—well in advance of the residency-application process that concludes with the Match.

“I tell students to update their CV and keep track of what they are doing as they do it,” Kavan said. “Even if you are just making notes on a note card or tablet about your experiences. What can happen if you aren’t proactive is that you get to your third year of med school and forget about all the things you did as an M1.”

A CV should grow in real time, Kavan said, as one’s career does.

“Your CV is a living document that you're going to be working on continually in medical school through your residency-application cycle, and then it is going to be something you carry with you into residency and beyond. It’s very important to have an up-to-date CV throughout your training and well beyond that.”