Dear Dr. Goodhook,

I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of a good physician cover letter, but as I apply to jobs, I find myself struggling. A cover letter just seems like a way to restate my CV, and I’m having a hard time seeing the point. Can’t an employer determine that I’m a good fit just by looking at my CV?

Also, I was wondering how I should change my letter for each opportunity. Is it OK to send the same cover letter to every job? If not, how should I tailor my letter to a specific employer?


Anxious in Asheville

Dear Anxious,

Might I compare your situation to the bizarre, newfangled world of online dating? Sending a potential employer your CV without a well-written cover letter is akin to sending a potential romantic companion your photo without a message. While this approach may work for some, I think we can all agree it is in bad taste.

If your physician cover letter seems redundant to you, try approaching it from a new angle. Instead of thinking of it as a “rehash” of your CV, think of it as a conversation.

The key is this: Ask yourself what you would say to your potential employer if you only had a minute of their time.

Your physician cover letter should be a maximum of three-quarters of a page, and you should use it to highlight key accomplishments. In addition, you should include other pertinent information that cannot be found on your CV.

First, let us go over the specific information you should include in any physician cover letter. Then, I’ll answer your second question. (Hint, hint: The short answer is no!)

Physician Cover Letter Basics

Introduction: Briefly outline the job for which you are applying. If applicable, you may also state how you heard about the opening.

Objective: Here, give a one-sentence explanation of your career objectives.

Strengths: Discuss what you could bring to the table. These strengths should directly relate to the job for which you are applying.

Educational Highlights: Careful, young resident! This is not where you simply “rehash” your CV. Instead, use this as an opportunity to elaborate on one or two educational highlights that are relevant to the position.

Personal: Do you have any outstanding personal characteristics that set you aside from your peers? Make sure they are relevant to the position, and avoid generic corporate speak. Put some thought into your answers.
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Ties to the Area: This is a key tip that many young physicians miss. Stating your ties to the area can set you aside from others (plus, it indicates that you took the time to craft a personalized letter). Do you have family in the area? Have you always wanted to live there? Explain why the community interests you.

Closing: End by reiterating your interest in the position. If you know your schedule in advance, you can include potential interview dates.

Sending Your Physician Cover Letter to Multiple Employers

Back to the online dating analogy (‘tis corny, but apt): Would you send the same love letter to three different people? Sending the same cover letter to multiple employers is equally tacky.

Your physician cover letter needs to be personalized to each and every employer. At minimum, this means changing out the employer’s name and contact information. You should also edit your letter to reflect specific details of the position and your ties to the area.

Having a cover letter “template” is acceptable, but make sure you tweak the information to personalize it.

And for goodness sake, proofread your physician cover letter! The best way to ensure you won’t land a job is to send a letter to “X” hospital that is wrongly addressed to “Y” hospital.

It’s like sending a letter to a redhead complimenting her lovely blonde curls. Which, young resident, I may or may not have done in the past. Learn from my mistakes.

For more tips, see the Search Timeline Stage in the Adventures in Medicine Online Resource Library.

Carry on,

Dr. Goodhook

In your opinion, what are the worst mistakes one can make on a physician cover letter?        


Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Guthrie Clinic supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Guthrie Clinic is making practice purposeful.