The key to success

A good CV is often about more than just academic achievement

HAVING NOW successfully completed two degrees, the Foundation Programme and a year of specialty training, I look back sometimes and wonder how I’ve managed to find myself in such an honoured position.

Currently a specialist trainee within psychiatry and content in the knowledge that my career choice has been wise, I have often been guilty of downplaying my own achievements. I tend to attribute them to a degree of luck or having been in the right place at the right time. Even my own mother has commented on my apparent good luck by saying that if I had the misfortune of falling into the River Clyde, I would undoubtedly reappear with a salmon.

But relying on luck as a method of career accomplishment is not something that anyone should do to achieve their goals. Looking back at my own achievements, I can see now that they have all been hard-earned. And in my experience, the key to success for medical graduates seeking a training place is often a well thought-out CV that is personalised and contains relevant information, conveying a true sense of your transferable skills and notable achievements to future employers.

As competition within medicine grows, employers are increasingly looking for CVs that offer more than just the standard academic qualifications.

The medical CV

The advent of ‘modernising medical careers’ may lead some doctors to think the medical CV is all but defunct. Entry to all specialties in medicine is based largely upon an electronic application form, comprising a series of boxes themed around a set of desirable ‘core competencies’. This allows the applicant to illustrate their perceived strengths in areas such as teamwork and leadership, backed up by sufficient evidence.

However, basing these answers on a well thought-out and succinct CV should be the catalyst that propels you to a successful application in your chosen field. It also serves as a useful reference document during this arduous and often daunting process.

So what should your CV consist of? In my view, the purpose of a CV is to give candidates the opportunity to illustrate the various skills, abilities and achievements that they have acquired over a period of time and within a variety of different settings. I have always stressed the importance of the adoption of a more holistic approach to life. Reflection of this within your application will ensure success and illustrate your ability to have a healthy work/life balance – a must if you are to survive a career in medicine.

Valuable experience

Throughout my time in higher education – almost ten years – I had the opportunity to undertake voluntary work. This encompassed both auxiliary nursing and participation in the running of a soup kitchen for the homeless within the Glasgow area. Such experiences were both humbling and rewarding and it’s only now that I’ve realised the impact and importance these activities have had in shaping my medical journey to date.

It cemented my ability to work and communicate effectively as part of a team. Moreover, I honed my ability to empathise with others’ needs and circumstances, making me a more accepting individual and understanding doctor. These attributes cannot be forced or learned overnight but are gradually acquired over time and evidence of this on any CV will be viewed favourably.

There are also many important medicine-related achievements and activities which attract high scores.

Participation in a clinical audit and research is another way of increasing your chance of securing the training place of your choice. It illustrates your understanding of the importance of such practice in medicine in the development of clinical guidelines and protocols. Successful completion of a properly conducted audit may also give you the opportunity to present your findings at a national conference – ensuring praise from your consultant and a welcome addition to your CV.

Consider also writing articles or research papers for publication. While this can be difficult, it is not impossible and it illustrates an ability to work to time constraints under a degree of pressure.

Achievement of teaching experience has become a mainstay of the higher training application process. The most common way is to get involved in the teaching of medical undergraduates. This most commonly happens via clinical examination sessions at the bedside of a willing patient. This not only helps consolidate your own knowledge but allows the opportunity to develop your communication and leadership skills, which are fundamental to being a doctor.

Selling yourself

Medicine has always been considered an elite profession. The gradual reduction in training places and the concomitant increase in the number of medical graduates have resulted in greater competition for jobs. Long gone are the days where a consultant’s ‘nod’ of approval would translate into a job offer. And being an alumnus of a particular medical school no longer gives you an advantage over other graduates. This welcome change has, however, placed greater importance on an individual’s ability to ‘sell themselves’ to potential employers. One way of achieving this is by early recognition of the importance of being a well-rounded individual – rather than simply being awarded a medical degree.

Dr Maggie Cairns has just completed her first year of specialty training in psychiatry and is editor of FYi