Building Your Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum vitae (CV) is the Latin phrase meaning "the course of life." The CV is a document that details the course of your life and career. A résumé is a shorter account of an individual’s career and qualifications and is more typically used for job applications. The CV contains additional detail and is used in situations where a more comprehensive picture of an applicant is desirable, such as for an academic position or residency training.

Your CV will be an important part of your Electronic Residency Application Service documentation to give training programs a better understanding of your life’s trajectory and path into medicine and those qualities that you could bring to a residency program. It provides information in helping them decide whether you would be a good fit for their institution. Your CV is also important during medical school as you may need it to apply for scholarships, grants, research activities, and external clinical rotations you may wish to pursue. Plus, it provides important background and context for both your medical school and departmental advisors in discussing your pathway in medicine, which programs to consider, and how to optimally assemble your application materials. Additionally, your CV will be helpful to those you ask to write letters of recommendation by enabling them to compose more detailed and richer letters on your behalf. For these reasons, it’s prudent to begin building your professional CV starting in your first year of medical school and develop the habit of updating it regularly, because you will need to maintain a current CV throughout your career.

Students often struggle with deciding what opportunities to seek out during medical school that will help them build their CV in a meaningful way. When thinking about this, it is critically important to remember that those who will be looking at your CV will be interested in getting a sense of the totality of your talents, skills, and life experiences beyond your basic qualifications for whatever position you may be seeking. Therefore, it is helpful to keep this broader view of your CV in mind rather than viewing it as a simple chronological compilation of activities and accomplishments as you consider opportunities while in medical school.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions that students have early in medical school is whether they need to pursue basic science or clinical research as a prerequisite, or to better position themselves, for entry into one or more branches of medicine. It is true that relatively few specialties value medical school research in their field more than others, whereas most do not. Therefore, if you are seriously interested in a particular specialty or subspecialty area of medicine, it is helpful to discuss this with your medical school advisors and those in that field for their perspective. However, engaging in research or related activities to build your CV—unless this is truly an area of interest to you or you are seriously considering this as a part of your future career—is neither necessary nor optimal given the significant opportunity costs in doing so.

It is also important not to exclude or minimize consideration of other opportunities during medical school that may seem less “scientific” yet are nonetheless valuable activities that reflect your personal interests and talents. For example, taking on leadership roles either within or outside of your medical school, participating in community service and philanthropic activities, or engaging in artistic or sports pursuits are all legitimate activities that contribute to your growth as a physician. In their own way, they demonstrate your breadth and depth as a human being that will be reflected in your CV.

The best advice when considering opportunities to build your CV in medical school is to have honest discussions with your medical school advisors and trusted faculty who are in a position to understand the broader picture of your life, work, and goals and how these things may be best communicated to others via your CV as you move into the next stage of your professional career. 

See ACP’s other resources for writing a CV:

Model Curriculum Vitae (CV) Template

ACP Leadership Academy Webinars – Writing a Professional CV