Why cover letters matter for physician job-seekers

Share your personality—and why you’re a good fit for the position—in your cover letter.

By Anish Majumdar | Job Doctor | Spring 2016

 

Hate small talk? Is chatting about yourself as appealing as getting a root canal? You’re not alone. Many of the physicians I work with have real trouble expressing themselves if the conversation doesn’t relate to their specialty. Unsurprisingly, they are also often the ones who will question the necessity of a cover letter during the search process: “No one reads them!” “It’s just fluff!” “Why can’t I just send the CV and call it a day?”

Here’s why: When asked what the most important factor was in distinguishing a high-quality physician, 59 percent of Americans said “physician-patient relationships” and “personality.” Only 11 percent said “ability to accurately diagnose and fix a problem.” (The study was done by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.)

Your ability to engage on a human level matters to both patients and recruiters. And it’s an element that health care institutions are placing an increasingly heavy emphasis on during the hiring process. This is where a cover letter can help: by offering a glimpse of the person behind the credentials, and encouraging a connection.

The exploratory letter

Having gone through the med school and residency application process, you’re probably familiar with the rigid structure of CVs. Throw all of that out the window for your cover letter! Consider it a blank canvas on which to create a fantastic first impression. This goes double for those situations when you’re not applying for a specific position, but rather initiating a dialogue.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you begin to write:

  • What appeals to me about this institution?
  • Why, specifically, do I want to work there, and what will help me to succeed?
  • With whom am I connected at this institution? An easy way to answer this question is to go to LinkedIn, search for the institution name in the search bar, and check out the “How You’re Connected” section on the top-right corner of the page.
  • Why am I a good fit with the culture of this institution?
  • Why do I practice medicine? How does my personal history relate to the work that I do?

Now that you’ve got some great information for the letter, let’s take a look at a general structure you can customize:

Dear Dr. Doe [use a first name if “Dr.” is not applicable]:

I am currently completing my [insert level of training and experience] and believe that [institution name]’s forward thinking in [areas you’ve identified through research] would make for an excellent fit. I received my [degree] from [institution name] and am highly experienced in [insert a few key procedural details or specific areas of interest].

Key qualifications:

Working with [insert patient population] to improve their lives and foster meaningful change is at the heart of what I do. During my [previous position or appointment] I faced a unique set of challenges in [what successes are you most proud of?]. I’d like to bring this experience to your institution, and know that I can be an asset to furthering the goals of the [specialty] department.

In researching [institution name], I realized that we share a connection with [person you’re connected to]. I had a chance to [mention any history you have with this person] and am confident that he can provide more insight into who I am.

Growing up in [mention hometown] I had an experience that opened my eyes to the immense potential we have as healers to effect positive change. [Mention aspects of your personal story that made you want to become a physician here, and why it continues to inspire you today.] I wish to continue to learn alongside leaders in the field, and serve as a mentor to the next generation of physicians.

Beyond the excellent reputation enjoyed by [institution name], I [mention lifestyle reason that appeals to you based on research]. A copy of my current CV is enclosed. I look forward to hearing from you to further discuss. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely, [Your name]

The position-specific letter

Cover letters for a specific position need to explicitly communicate fit. With that in mind, it’s important to evaluate the job posting to identify the top one to two qualifications that are essential for success.

For example, a high-level academic position could hinge on demonstrating excellence in medical education and organizational development.

Here’s a general structure you can use:

RE: [POSITION TITLE AND INSTITUTION NAME]

Dear Dr. Doe [use a first name if “Dr.” is not applicable]:

How can we [directly address the long-term priorities of the institution based on research] and succeed within a rapidly changing health care environment? Answering these questions have been at the heart of my career to date, and is the primary reason behind my desire to join your institution. I am [mention your most impressive credentials].

A leader in [Insert number-one qualification necessary for success]

My areas of interest in [mention key aspects of your experience] have been shaped through a range of academic and clinical appointments. At [mention specific position], my duties included [describe aspects of the job that tie into number-one qualification]. Prior to this, I [mention other work and training that helps to establish credibility for number-one qualification].

Broad experience in [Insert number-two qualification necessary for success]

[Use the same approach as previous paragraph. If you lack experience in this area, use this space to talk about your strong interest, and how exactly you’re planning to bolster your capabilities.]

My roots in medicine began [mention personal history], and my progressive experience over the past few years have done much to illuminate the way forward. In the following years, I see myself as [describe your biggest dream for the future, and how this position is integral to it].

My CV is attached. Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to continuing this discussion in person.

Sincerely, [Your name]

Anish Majumdar is a career strategist, certified résumé writer and founder of ResumeOrbit.com. He specializes in helping physicians land dream positions in less time.

 

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