Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Writing a winning CV

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 05 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:s225
  1. Sam McErin, physician and mentor on communication skills
  1. Edukom, Sale, Cheshire M33 4YJSammcerin{at}


Sam McErin outlines a successful formula

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a summary of an individual's attributes and career. Your CV needs to answer the short-lister's important questions: Who is he or she? What are his or her qualifications and experience? What does he or she expect to gain from this job? Will he or she fit into our team?1

Structure of a CV

Although CVs are as different as the individuals they describe, they nevertheless follow a common format (box 1). Use a recognised format till you are experienced in writing CVs.

Personal details need not include marital status, family size, or nationality of your spouse. Some applicants include hepatitis B status.

Qualifications include your first degree and membership by examination of professional bodies. Passes at parts of membership exams should be listed separately. Do not claim the membership after passing part 1—the recruiter will not be impressed. Don't list exams you failed.

Usual format


Initials, surname, one qualification

Personal details

  • Postal address

  • Telephone

  • Fax

  • Email

  • Names (first name(s), (surname)

  • Nationality

  • Date of birth

  • Sex

Career details

  • Qualifications, dates, institution, and location

  • Professional organisations (GMC, BMA, and so on)

  • Career plan stating your hopes and how the job will help you achieve them

  • Skills and achievements (summarise your competencies and what you have done)

  • Education (dates, institution, locations, courses, qualifications, and prizes; non-academic achievements)

  • Work history (date, position, employer, location, duties, and achievements)

  • Courses and conferences attended

  • Presentations at meetings

  • Clinical audit and research

  • Publications (in journals, book chapters, books, and abstracts of conference proceedings)

Additional information

• Useful skills (clinical, computer, languages, writing, and so on)


• Give your interests and leisure activities


• Give names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and email addresses of your referees—usually two

Your career plan should be brief and on the first page of the CV state how the job will help you achieve it:

• I hope to work as a senior house officer, take the exam for membership of the Royal College of Physicians, and specialise in neurology

Skills and achievements allow senior doctors to summarise their skills and achievements to highlight what the employer would get if they were appointed:

• Leadership

Supervised the trust's change from a dependent culture into a competitive healthcare provider

Adviser on clinical governance to Catsford Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Education gives dates, names, and location of institutions attended; courses taken; and examinations passed. Mention non-academic achievements (school prefect, football captain, debating society secretary, and so on) to indicate your leadership potential:

• 1984-9—Catsford High School, Catsford,

4 A level passes

Secretary of senior school debating society (1986-8)

Work history describes current or most recent posts in detail and outlines distant posts:

• July 1998 to June 1999registrar in paediatrics, Catsford Infirmary, Catsford

Hospital inpatient and outpatient paediatric and neonatal practice Performed, presented, and published two clinical audits (see audit).

Courses and conferences attended are listed to indicate that you continue to develop your clinical skills and personal effectiveness.

Presentations include audits, research, and clinical cases presented at local and external professional meetings:

• 16 October 2003—Cat scratch fever.

Weekly medical grand round, Catsford Infirmary, Catsford

Clinical audit and research gives examples of studies you have done. Include brief summaries of the audit or research to indicate the importance of the subject and your analytical skills.

Publications include material in journals, book chapters, or books and presentations cited in proceedings of professional meetings. Give adequate details so that readers can find the article or book. Follow the Vancouver style2 for citing publications and references. Additional information adds important details you could not fit into other sections—special clinical or computer skills, proficiency in other languages, and so on.

Hobbies and interests show that you have a life outside medicine. Name your leisure activities and briefly describe unusual activities.

Referees are your current or recent consultants or colleagues who are willing to recommend you to employers. Give postal addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and email addresses of two people who have agreed to be your referees.

Writing your CV

CVs are written in one of three formats—targeted, chronological, and functional. The functional format is ideal for doctors' CVs. It lists personal details, qualifications, and competencies and summarises work history from the current post back to the first.

Some doctors fear writing their CV in case they get it wrong. Like most learnt activities, performance improves with good practice. Of course, you will make a few mistakes but you will soon master the skill.

Internet CVs are not suitable models for academic and public healthcare professionals. Medical recruiters expect detailed documents with every job listed. So follow the usual format for medical CVs, making notes on each topic listed. Edit, revise, and rearrange the result till you have a document resembling one of the examples (see web extra).

Watch your language—grammar and spelling. Use a spellchecker or dictionary and read the document carefully. Only you can distinguish between hear and here, message and massage, and other sets of confusing words. Poor spelling and bad grammar could lead to rejection of your application.

Write in an active language to show that you have an active and decisive mind.

Other points

The length of a CV depends on the number of posts held and what was done in each. While two pages may be enough for most preregistration house officers and senior house officers, a registrar seeking a consultant post would fill several pages. A senior doctor moving into management needs a two page CV to highlight skills and achievements.3

Nothing but the truth should appear in your CV. Present yourself in the best light and emphasise your competencies and achievements, but do not lie.4

Commercial CV writers type, edit, and produce your CV from the information you send them. They print it on expensive paper and charge you a premium. You could write and edit it yourself and pay a secretary for typing and printing. It is cheaper.

Your CV should be neat, simple, concise, and easy to read. Print it on good quality white 80 g/m2 paper. It is the content and style of your document that will impress recruiters and not the cost of the paper it is printed on.


  • Competition

  • Career focus has 15 copies of Sam McErin's book Writing the Medical CV (Manchester, Edukom, 2004) to give away to 15 readers who give the best reasons about why they need it. Please email careerfocus{at} with your entries.

  • Embedded ImageGo to web extra on for examples of citing publications, further information, references, and three examples of CVs

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