How to Build an Outstanding Curriculum Vitae During Medical School
Published on Mar 10, 2020. Updated on Oct 27, 2023.
Your curriculum vitae or CV sums up your professional achievements as a medical student, and it's an essential part of your residency applications. Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Kelsey Titzman shares her 13 tips for building a top-tier CV during medical school.
When you’re getting ready to reach further and start applying for residency programs, it’s important to look inward and start with the heart. Before starting to build your medical school curriculum vitae (CV), you need to ask yourself some important questions, such as:
What is most valuable to me in my life and career?
What is my passion?
What specialty is most suited to my personality and skill set?
What mark do I want to leave on the world, my community, my neighbors, my patients, my peers, and my family?
At times, medical school can be such a whirlwind that it feels like you’re just hanging on, which is why it is so important to take time to stop and check in with yourself and ask these questions—frequently.
Ideally, you should be taking stock of your situation before beginning medical school and several times during the semester to make sure you are engaging with your educational experience and shaping your career in the way you intended, to the best of your abilities. Which brings me to the most important question of all:
Are you living with intention?
In this article, I’m going to show you how finding the answers to these questions is a great starting point for building an impressive CV that will help you stand out as a residency applicant and succeed on the Match.
The AAMC has some great tools: use them!
The Careers in Medicine section of the Association of American Medical Colleges® (AAMC®) website is extremely helpful for helping you better understand what specialty might suit you and your skills. This site hosts a WEALTH of tools, data, and knowledge.
I’d recommend beginning with the Choose Your Specialty section of the website before moving on to the Prepare for Residency and Shape Your Career sections. In these locations you can find data to target your CV-building efforts per-field, and you can also easily find out what the Program Directors in that specialty tend to value the most in an applicant. Yes, you can find this information that easily!
In conjunction with the AAMC Careers in Medicine page, you will want to then take a dive into the National Residency Match Program® (NRMP®) Match Data and explore their data, research and survey reports. These pages will show you how programs prioritize things like USMLE® Step and COMLEX-USA® scores, the competitiveness of individual programs, and more.
Background research: check. Now it’s time to take action
This section contains what I’m calling the Big 13 Medical School CV Builders. Each one contains tips I’ve picked up along my journey through medical school and from conversations with career counselors.
You do not need to do every single one of these items. When you’re reviewing them, please tailor each one to your own experience using the research you’ve done on what will work best for you and your goals.
I know how easy it is to get swept up in comparison and worry about what everyone else is doing in medical school. Your peers are awesome humans and great resources, but you still need to do what is best for you and your career. Your patients will appreciate having a passionate physician that knows their own strengths and weaknesses and uses them to provide the best care possible!
1. Shadow a clinician in every medical specialty you’re considering
Shadowing will help you develop a more solid idea of what specialty is right for you. It also allows you to build connections, better your clinical skills, and it even helps you stay motivated to study by reminding you of how great it is to care for others.
2. Seek out volunteering opportunities
When looking for volunteer opportunities, you might start by researching what projects and organizations your school or clubs at your school already might already be associated with.
If you’d like to think further afield, consider:
What causes and organizations are you passionate about?
Are there one or two recurring weekly/monthly volunteering opportunities you can get involved in? How about big annual events?
Are there any initiatives occurring over spring or summer break, when you have (at least a little) more time?
Can you create your own event, organization, or opportunity?
What need do you see in your community?
Volunteering is an effective way to hone essential soft skills like empathy that will serve you will in the clinic. Depending on the demographic you’re working with, it could also influence which residency programs you choose to rank later down the line.
3. Become an advocate
Building on the previous point, as a future clinician, your words carry weight. Think about causes or people whose voices you could help amplify, whether they’re your classmates, small organizations, or movements seeking to change things for the better. Become an advocate and raise awareness for a specific cause, whether you’re doing it at the level of student council, city council, state, or even national government.
4. Get involved at your institution
Your institution likely hosts a number of student groups that you can get involved with. If you notice a lack of groups focused on a specific topic you’re passionate about, you could look at this as an opportunity to start a club for an underrepresented medical interest group.
With clubs, it can be easy to only stick to what is happening at your school level, so, thinking more broadly, you might also look for opportunities to join a national organization for your specialty or an interest group in medicine. Attending conferences can be an effective means of getting involved with such groups.
It’s worth it to explore this option and take advantage of the opportunities a national-level membership can offer you!
5. Perform clinical research
Join a faculty member’s research team. Write your own case study. Create your own research project. Performing clinical research and publishing in medical journals demonstrates strong critical thinking ability and also shows you’re actively contributing to the study of medicine—both of which are huge boons for your residency applications.
6. Become a mentor
Have your classmates’ backs by signing up to mentor students in years below you or create a mentorship program at your school. Use this opportunity to practice your mentorship skills, as you’ll certainly become a mentor to someone once you begin your clinical career!
7. Offer tutoring services
Sign up to tutor or create a tutoring session for tough subject areas that you happen to excel in.
For example, one of my classmates who was a Radiology Technician before medical school organized tutoring sessions the week before every practical exam to help everyone in our class. She ended up tutoring for the next class and creating an education research project out of it. All of these efforts culminated in her winning a Peer Leader award for her selflessness in helping her classmates. This is a great example of knowing your skills and passions and using them optimally!
8. Reach further and develop your skills
Think about what extra skills and workshops you can develop or improve on throughout medical school. Does your school offer any extra training programs outside of the regular curriculum? Is there something you wish was in the curriculum that isn’t? Can you turn that into your project?
To provide another example from my own experience at NYITCOM-AR, at one point, we all wanted more suture practice opportunities. One of my classmates went the extra mile and teamed up with the Emergency Medicine and Surgery Clubs at our school—together, these groups now host several suture clinics a year!
9. Create your own opportunities
As you can see from the examples above, all you need to do is look for areas of opportunity or need that you are passionate about it and go for it! Other examples from my medical school experience include classmates who started a community coat drive, and another classmate who runs a regular clean-up of our local parks.
10. Earn honors and awards
Work hard and use your passion to create positive change and people will notice. Scholarships and awards can help to drive down your debt, too—always a bonus!
11. Think outside the box
What are your non-medical passions and hobbies? What special skills do you have or what are you an expert in? Is there a job that you could do a few hours a week while in school?
Having unique non-medical interests and accomplishments can help you stand out while also keeping you a little more inspired and excited by allowing yourself to enjoy other areas of life outside of medical school. It also highlights the fact that you’re a well-rounded applicant.
12. Don’t be afraid to ask for (or accept!) help
One of the beauties of the medical school process is the fact that you are surrounded by amazing high-level achievers every day and professors who are experts in their respective fields.
Always ask for advice from the people who have gone before you! Team up with your classmates with talents different than yours and share the workload of projects you take on. When someone in a position above you offers to help you or gives you their business card, follow up and let them help you. If they didn’t want to, they wouldn’t offer in the first place!
Even if there is not an immediate project that they can assist you with, keep the line of communication open by sending a quick email to check in, and don’t forget to say thanks afterward! A handwritten thank-you card is so meaningful and memorable!
13. Know your limits
Lastly, while building your CV is important in school, the knowledge you are gaining and the need to pass your courses are, of course, paramount.
I feel it is important to be transparent about this point, especially for people who are just starting medical school. Build your resume gradually, and only once you’re comfortable with your current workload. To be honest, this list would have really stressed me out in my first eight months of medical school because at that point, I hadn’t gotten comfortable with my study techniques, skills, and schedule.
There are seasons in medical school where you may simply not have time to take on more than studying, and that is completely okay. Give yourself grace.
There are also times when you can find another hour or two in your day for things that are important to you. Please don’t feel like every spare moment has to be turned into a resume-building opportunity!
All right, as a quick recap...
In summary… Know and be true to yourself. Use data to make optimal and efficient choices. Be kind, be generous, and share that spirit with others through words and concrete action. Rock on.
Special thanks to Ms. Holly Proffitt, Senior Career Advisor, for teaching my classmates and I much of the above and allowing me to share it with you!
Kelsey Titzman is an OMS II at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine-Arkansas campus. She is passionate about nature, mental and physical wellness, audiobooks, cheese, public health, and family medicine.Try Osmosis today! Access your free trial and find out why millions of clinicians and caregivers love learning with us.