CaRMS CVs: Writing them Right

In CaRMS Guide, Mentorship by Brent Thoma7 Comments

Originally published by Brent Thoma on August 31, 2013.  Expert reviewed and re-published on September 23, 2014.

How time flies. About 4 years ago at this time I was in Edmonton on an Emergency Medicine elective when the CaRMS website opened to applicants. The next few months were a blur of an empty word document in need of a personal letter, many frantic e-mails to my references (that I tried to make sound un-frantic), and wondering what should go in all of those empty boxes on my CaRMS CV.

After a quick look at what is included in a complete CaRMS application, this post will specifically address CaRMS CV’s. Be sure to follow the links to my other articles on references, personal letters (pending) and interviews (see here and here too).

Please take this advice with my usual disclaimer: this post represents only my opinion on what makes a solid CV. While I think I have earned some credibility after reviewing CaRMS applications for the last 3 years, opinions will vary from school to school, specialty to specialty and person to person.

What is included in a CaRMS applications?

A complete CaRMS application requires multiple components:

  • The information that you would commonly find on your CV is entered directly into the website and sent to every program that you apply to. In a previous post that you can find here I outlined the components of this CV. Note that you only this information once and it is sent to ALL of the programs that you apply to (you can not customize it).
  • Other documents are assigned to specific programs based on what they request. Generally they each ask for 3-5 reference letters (reference letters are discussed here) and a personal letter (a post called CaRMS Personal Letters: You in 500 words or less will be posted next week).
  • Some programs request additional documents such as transcripts, medical student performance records (aka called Dean’s letters), custom CV’s and photos (photos are not visible until the interview period). These (and other) documents are uploaded a single time and you are able to send them to whichever programs request them.

You can see exactly what each program requests by checking out the program descriptions on the CaRMS website. Each program will decide whether to invite you for an interview (see my posts on interviews herehere and here) based on these components.

For example, if you were going to apply to 12 emergency medicine programs and 4 family medicine programs you will need to enter your CV information into the CaRMS website where it will be sent to every program you apply for. You’ll then be able to assign reference letters (3-5/program means you’ll need between 3 and infinity), personal letters (1 unique letter/program means you will need 16 unique letters) and other documents (depends on what each program requests) to each program you apply for.

How are CaRMS applications reviewed?

This varies from program to program and school to school. I think it would be safe to say that it is generally a group effort that involves the program director, faculty and resident reviewers.

What do reviewers look for on a CaRMS CV?

This is such a hard question to answer. Of course, different reviewers will look at different things. Things that I pay attention to include:

  • A history of frequent and substantial engagement and leadership within your community. By community I mean town, city, faculty, university, etc. By substantial I mean that you made a longstanding commitment or played a big role. An application that is empty or full of one-off activities suggests to me that you are unlikely to contribute much to our community. For this reason, in addition to stating what committees you were on or positions you held, spell out the impact you made in the space that you are provided you with.
  • A clearly demonstrated interest in emergency medicine. For me this does not necessarily mean a bunch of research. While research would certainly meet this criteria, things like electives in emergency medicine, involvement with an emergency medicine interest group, attendance at conferences like CAEP, etc also demonstrate an interest. If you do not have this because you were a latecomer to EM I hope to hear about it in your personal letter.
  • Any red flags. If you have anything you would consider a red flag on your application, I would suggest you address it on your personal letter as well. Examples might include disciplinary actions in your medical student progress report (Dean’s letters) or failed courses.
  • Grammatical and spelling errors. Believe it or not, they happen – and they bother me!
  • Unique backgrounds, interests, hobbies or skills. After reading 90 applications they all blur together to some extent. Sharing these types of things makes you unique and it is more likely that I will remember you. You may not think your passion for surfing is a selling feature (and I might not either), but it might help you gain some points with an attending that was a huge surfer girl back in the day.

What are your top five tips for CaRMS CVs?

  1. Have a trustworthy and writing-savvy friend proof-read your application.
  2. Include the things that make you unique, even if they’re a bit weird.
  3. Do not be shy about your accomplishments. Nobody else is!
  4. Be able to speak to everything you write because you might get asked about it on interviews!
  5. Have a trustworthy and writing-savvy mentor proof-read your application.

Conclusion

The CaRMS CV is far from the most difficult part of the process. Most of you will have all of the information that you need already. However, taking time to present it thoughtfully, accurately and in perfect prose will only help your application.

If you found this helpful, please share this article (and my others) with your classmates and friends. Stay tuned for my next post “Personal Letters: You in 500 words or less” coming next week by following my blog through e-mail, twitter or Facebook at the top of the right sidebar.

Thanks to Eve Purdy for reviewing this post originally in 2013.

UPDATE September 22, 2014:  Also thanks to Dr. Teresa Chan for reviewing this post from her perspective as a frequent CaRMS File Reviewer.

 

Reviewing with the Staff  | Expert Reviewer Dr. T. Chan

Dr. Teresa Chan, MD, FRCPC is the Managing Editor of BoringEM.org.  She has been actively participating in the CaRMS file review process for many years now (since she was a resident).  She approximates that she has read over 300 CVs to date.

 

Look, let’s be honest.  In the past I’ve read (literally) hundreds of files and the CV has never been one thing to truly stand out to me.  That said, pragmatically, it is a great screening tool for me so that I can quickly flip through to view if a CaRMS candidate has displayed any interest in ANYTHING outside of medicine.  Leadership, advocacy, music… all of it helps the CaRMS application reader with building a mental image of you as a person.  The more you can get your reader to imagine sitting and chillin’ with you at the interview social, the better chance you have at getting an invite.

Overall, three simple rules:

1) Make sure your CV is coherent.

Think of your CV as a chance to express your personal brand.  You want your CV to represent all those things that you KNOW that the selection committee and program directors are looking for:  1) Organization; 2) Thorough; 3) Not-going-to-be-problematic.  A messy, disorganized CV (the uploaded one, not the generic CaRMS generated one) can send the wrong message.  [NB: If you can upload supplemental materials, please upload a copy of your personal version of the CV.  The CaRMS one is not very coherent, so some file reviewers (like myself) will open your pretty little PDF and read it in lieu of the non-user friendly e-version created by the automatic CaRMS machine.]

2) Try to use your CV to tell YOUR STORY

If rock-climbing is important to you, MENTION IT (probably under “Interests” and not in your academic credentials :D).  Depending on whether your interview is open (i.e. they have read your file cover to cover) or closed (i.e. they know nothing about you), it may come up during your interviews!

For instance, on an open interview it may morph into a question (i.e. “Ohh, I see you’re interested in Rock Climbing… Can you tell me more about that?”).  If it’s a closed interview, at least the person reading the CVs might have seen it and thought it (and you) interesting!  Whatever it is that tells your story – make sure you list it!  Your CV is the way to explain your background and your priorities, and let you tell us about your crowning achievements.  Just remember, you’re not Forrest Gump – you don’t have to start from pre-kindergarten.  Day 0 of med school should be sufficient, unless you’ve got some amazing experiences pre-med school that really help tell your story.

3) Don’t Lie on your CV.  Just don’t do it.

I could go on and on about the CaRMS CV and how it can be useful as a screening tool for red flags, but I think one of the big issues I wanted to flag was the issue of falsification or glorification of CV elements.  Medical education has caught on to the fact that this happens  (See papers here, here, here and here).  I know sometimes it is not really your fault.  For example, occasionally supervisors or co-authors may change the order of the authors on a paper without everyone knowing.  Though that would be their transgression, you don’t want to look like you’re trying to pull a fast one on a CaRMS selection committee. Do your best to confirm the accuracy of the information you submit.  In the age of Google Scholar, it’s just too easy to get caught a few months later during the application review period.  We can search articles very easily by copying-and-pasting the title of each piece.  If they don’t come up… well, THAT is a red flag.  Double check and triple check that you’ve got your citations nailed down!  This goes for the rest of the application too.  Be truthful.  The truth WILL set you free – because you have to be consistent between your file, your social time (i.e. discussions whilst on electives and at the cocktail hour the night before), and at the interview!  If you exaggerate it might be hard to remember which hyperbole was said where.  The truth is the best way to be consistent.

For more tips, check out this article about what HR folks at Google are looking for in the resumes of their potential hires.

 

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Brent Thoma
+ Brent Thoma is a medical educator, blogging geek, and emergency physician who works at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. He founded BoringEM and is a senior editor / tech support / jack-of-all trades at CanadiEM.
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Brent Thoma
BoringEM
BoringEM has been 'bringing the boring' to emergency medicine since 2012. In 2016 this Canadian blog brought its content to CanadiEM.
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