The Perpetual Vitae™ and how to write a physician CV
Up to this point I’ve mentioned just two document types: CVs and resumes. You might not be pleased to hear me say that, before you write either of those, there’s a third document you really should construct. It’s true. But having this will make it a whole lot easier to develop both your CV and resume. It’s the Perpetual Vitae.
Here’s a snippet showing actual questions from a state medical license application:
Take a second to see if you can answer these questions off the top of your head.
- What is the date that you took the USMLE Step 2 CK?
- What is the name and title of your residency’s program director?
- What were your responsibilities for your first job?
- What was your address five years ago?
If you got these, you’re probably either quite young, have had the same job for a long time, or have a really excellent memory. For the rest of us, ever struggle when you’ve had questions like these arise? I have many times, and I think to myself:
For real? Do they know how many testing days are blurred together in my head from the course of over a decade of post-graduate education and training!?
I rack my brain to think of when I took Step 2. The most specific I can get is the year, and that it was cold outside.
Why do they possibly need to know the actual day of the month?
I grumble as I search through the history on my Google calendar, hoping I had the foresight to enter an item called “Sit for USMLE” or “Take Step 2.” I guess not. I probably thought I was being cute when I called it “Test day, baby!” or something. So I decide I probably need to log into the USMLE website to look up the information. Unfortunately, this involves that:
a) I remember what organization actually administers the test – ABMS? NBME? ACGME?
b) I recall the username and password that I came up with approximately a decade ago,
And, if unable to accomplish B, that
c) The email address associated with my account is still active so that I can click the “Forgot your password?” link and retrieve password reset instructions.
Anyway, you get the point. If this saga resonated with you, the Perpetual Vitae will be love at first site. If you haven’t been in a similar situation, you may not reap the benefits right away; however, if you’re pursuing or considering a non-traditional career in medicine, it’s quite likely that at some point you’ll need to apply for multiple state medical licenses, or perhaps to recall various detailed information that happened long ago in your life. Or – my favorite – fill out online job applications that won’t let you press submit without entering information into hundreds of separate little boxes.
It’s not meant to be seen by anyone but yourself, in most cases. As a result, it doesn’t need to be formatted nicely. Grammar and word choice are far less important than they are with a traditional CV or resume.
Moreover, it will drastically improve your efficiency in applying for medical licenses, filling out job applications, and answering various questions that arise pertaining to your professional history.
If you don’t already have something analogous to a Perpetual Vitae, it’s worth blocking out a couple hours one day to crank this out. It will make your life easier later on, especially if you are pursuing non-clinical jobs or freelance work.
Open up a Word document and let’s get to work
Below, you’ll find the sections that should be included in your Perpetual CV, as well as the detailed information to include in each. Some sections may not be relevant to you, or there may be additional sections that you need for your unique situation. Modify this format to fit your needs, but err on the side of including excess information than leaving things out. Remember – this document is for your eyes only, so there’s really no benefit to brevity.
Demographics, experience, and education
- Name and Contact Info
- Education and Training
- Professional Activities
- Volunteer and Pro Bono Work
- Professional Training
Name and Contact Info
At some point, you might fill out a form with a lofty demand like this:
To avoid thumbing through utility bills to remember what street you lived on in 2012, use this section of your Perpetual Vitae for:
- Your name, obviously. But also any previous names you’ve gone by and the dates you legally changed it, as well as aliases.
- All your past home addresses. You’ll be asked for these for certain background checks or clearances.
Education and Training
Write down all schools and post-graduate training programs from high school onward. Include:
- School or program name
- School address
- Exact dates attended and date of graduation
- Degree incurred as well as any minors or concentrations
- GPA and any honors associated with your degree, such as cum laude
- Title of your thesis or dissertation, if applicable
The format of this section can vary widely, depending on your work history and what type of jobs you’ve had. I have mine separated into
- Employment History
- Independent Contracting
(If you’re a freelancer with a ton of previous clients, you don’t necessarily need to put them all here. I’ve only had a handful of clients, and most have been long-term, so I include them all.) There are many other ways to subdivide this section; use what works best for your experience. Here’s another example that might work for some folks:
- Clinical Experience
- Teaching Experience
- Administrative Experience
For most entries in this section, include:
- Name of employer
- Exact dates worked
- All titles you had (or academic rank) during employment and the dates you held each
- Name, title, and contact information of your supervisor
- Main responsibilities, including any hospital or admitting privileges you had and any academic affiliations
- Important accomplishments
- Starting and ending salary or rate
- Reason for leaving the employer
The accomplishments section doesn’t need to be carefully thought-out wording like it does on your CV or resume. The point here is to include enough information to jog your brain when you’re working on your resume or need to provide this information to another source.
This is another section that will probably require subdividing. Here, you’ll want to include:
- Committees and commissions
- Boards of directors
- Expert panels
- Task forces
You might have others; this is not an exhaustive list. For each one, put down:
- Name of the group
- Name of the affiliated organization
- Dates involved
- Your position within the group (e.g. chair, secretary)
- The name, title, and contact info for a point of contact for the group
- Any notable accomplishments of the group during your involvement
Volunteer and Pro Bono Work
Here, I list only experiences that were healthcare-related or that directly contributed to the knowledge or skills that I currently use in my professional work. For example:
- Yes – An in-depth healthcare data analysis and report for the local chapter of a nonprofit
- No – Occasionally sorting canned goods at the food bank
List similar details to those included in your Experience or Professional Activities section.
This is for training that didn’t result in a degree. You certainly don’t need to include a listing for every CME activity you’ve ever participated in. However, you do want to include any courses that significantly added to your knowledge or skill set, or that helped you to advance your career. An example of one I include in my Perpetual Vitae is a Lean Sigma Prescription for Healthcare Green Belt Course that I took.
These entries should include:
- Name of the course or training
- Dates of attendance and completion
- The organization that offered the training
Great. Now take a breath and, when you’re ready, keep reading!
Publications, professional development, and everything else
- Grants and Funding
- Awards and Honors
- Memberships and Affiliations
- Licensure and Certification
- Publications and Patents
Grants and Funding
This section is big for anyone who’s spent any time in academia. Chances are your grants are close to your heart. This isn’t just for the big players in grants like the NIH and other federal agencies, though. You should also consider:
- Community grants
- Travel grants
- Research funding from professional organizations
Be sure to include where the funding came from, when you received it, and the accomplishments that resulted from it
Awards and Honors
- Achievement-base scholarships
- Honor societies
- Professional recognitions such as “Teacher of the Year”
- Research or writing awards
- Any other professional accomplishment for which you have a medal, trophy, plaque, or engraved crystal dust-collector
You should record not just the name and date of receipt of each award, but also what you did in order to deserve it. For example, if you got the “Most Engaged House Staff” award, write a quick note of why you were chosen – Did you volunteer to give the noontime lecture whenever they needed a presenter? Did you go above and beyond when discussing cases with interns even though your schedule was packed?
Memberships and Affiliations
This is a section to list any organizations of which you’ve been a member. If you’re very actively involved, these may already be detailed in your Professional Activities section. Examples to include here are membership within your local medical society, your specialty college, and professional societies. For each one, include:
- Dates of membership
- Any positions held (e.g. chair, secretary)
Licensure and Certification
The most important thing here is probably your medical board certification. Make note of:
- Dates of certification
- The certifying board
This section is also for certifications you’ve received that weren’t part of a formal program. For example, if you’re a Certified Coding Specialist, that info goes here.
Finally, state medical licenses, DEA licenses, and the like are very important to keep track of. If you’ve only ever practiced in a single state, you can jot these down here. Otherwise, I highly recommend you have a completely separate spreadsheet to keep track these. Include:
- License number
- Licensing body
- Dates granted, renewed, and expiring
- Other licenses affiliated with your state license including state controlled substance license and any mid-level provider collaborative agreements
For any important standardized exams or tests you’ve taken (such as USMLE, SPEX, FLEX, or LMCC), indicate:
- Name of the exam
- Organization that administered the exam
- Date you took it
- Your score
Publications and Patents
Here’s another section that may be easy for you if you’ve spent time in academia. “Publish or perish,” they say. If you have a lot of publication, you might even choose to subdivide this section into different types. For the rest of us, rack your brain for any of the following:
- Journal articles
- Books or book chapters
- Web-based publications
- Educational material
Elements to include are:
- Full citation and web URL, if applicable
- Any associated job, institution, or grant
Write down any patents or pending patents you have. Consider including a few notes to yourself about the purpose of the patent and what its impact has been. Elements to include:
- Patent name and number
- Date it was issued
- As with the publications section, any job, institution, or grant associated with the patent
This section can incorporate:
- Keynote addresses
- Conference presentations
- Invited lectures
- Poster presentations
Elements to include:
- Event or course at which you delivered it
This is one of the sections that sets a Perpetual Vitae apart from a regular CV or resume. On those, you shouldn’t include references and shouldn’t even write “References available upon request.” In your Perpetual Vitae, though, you should definitely include these so that the information is right at your fingertips if you’re ever asked for the name and contact information for a professional reference.
Elements to include:
- Name, title, and contact information of the reference
- The name of their organization
- Dates you worked together
- The capacity in which you worked with them
Finishing up this beast
You may have other sections, depending on your background and experience. If you’ve done a lot of research, for example, it might make sense to have a Research Activities section. Use a format that works for you. This is less about following a specific format and more about making sure you have a running list of all the important professional activities throughout your career in a single document that you can easily refer to whenever needed.
Other details you might want to include are:
- Malpractice insurance, carrier names, and dates of policies
- Details regarding any medical malpractice or disciplinary issues
- Explanations for any “gaps” in your work history or education
I recommend updating your Perpetual Vitae once a year. Set a ping for yourself – I suggest using Nozbe. The update should take less than an hour of your time. During this exciting update session, the point is to add in everything new that happened over the course of the year. Don’t delete anything that’s already a part of your document. You can edit it, if you’d like, but typically that’s not necessary. It’s perpetual, so the older parts should be all set. Here’s how to update your perpetual vitae:
- Add in any obvious, major updates, such as starting a new job, graduating, or patenting the next wound vac or life vest (congrats on that)
- Next, go section by section and think about whether you have any new items to add
At this point, if you feel confident that you remembered everything, you’re done! If you have a lot going on in your professional career (if you have a lot of clients as an independent contractor, for example, or frequent publications), you may want to sift through your calendar and business files from the year to pinpoint anything you may have missed.
Now you finally get to make your CV
I’m fully aware that the process of developing a perpetual vitae was in-depth. But now writing your CV will be a breeze. To go from Perpetual Vitae to CV, simply copy the relevant pieces into a new document with similar headings but nicer formatting.
Here’s an example format of a fairly concise 4-page CV (click to enlarge):
Check out the rest of our series on CVs and resumes:
- Intro – The resume and CV guide for physicians pursuing non-clinical and alternative jobs
- Part 1 – A resume is not a CV, even if you’re a doctor
- Part 2 – Introducing the Perpetual Vitae™ and how to write a CV
- Part 3 – Writing a winning resume for non-clinical jobs
- Bonus – Resume template