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Career and Professional Development

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Career Planning

As you've probably figured out by now, "being a physician" is not a specific enough career goal; there are specialties to choose from, and then sub-specialties of the specialties. So how do you choose what's right for you? Many times your clerkship experiences will help you decide, but it's also important to do some self-reflection and really consider what feels like the right path for you. 

Start by gathering information about different specialties. What do you like most? Why? What are the requirements to enter that field? What kinds of experiences will set you up for success? Can you talk to residents and physicians about their experience and how they chose their field? The links below can help you begin exploring, but in-person observations and informational interviewing are also critical to good decision-making.


Understanding - and articulating - your own motivators, interests and values play an important role in making solid career decisions. Specialties that match best with what makes you uniquely "you" will bring more career satisfaction and success. 

Some things will just appeal to you more than others. Are you more excited by the prospect of using power tools during a surgery, or the long-term relationships you develop with patients in primary care? Are you fascinated by research and analyzing findings, or energized by the idea of a high-pressure emergency department? Are you drawn to the processes and protocols required in certain subspecialties, or does the artistry required to make an incision nearly invisible sound more appealing? 

Core values are your highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and the heart of what you stand for. There are no good or bad values, just ones that feel right to you. Articulating these can help you make decisions in line with your fundamental driving forces.


Field & Research Experience

Skills are developed not only through required coursework and clerkships, but also through engagement outside the classroom and residency programs value candidates who pursued such experiences. In fact, a portion of your Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE) revolves around it. The "Noteworthy Characteristics" section is your opportunity to call attention to activities related to research, teamwork, leadership, service, and/or teaching/curriculum development. Suggested resources for finding quality experience include:


Networking and Professionalism

Networking is a critical part of both your professional development and your residency/job search, but don't let the word scare you away; it's really about developing friendly, mutually-beneficial relationships with colleagues and other professionals. Just like you might turn to a friend or family member who knows a lot about plumbing to help you fix a leaky faucet, you'll be turning to other experts in your workplace who can provide insight and support - just as you would do for them if asked.

Your network can help you with your career planning in many ways; from providing information about specialties, to connecting you with their own contacts, to supporting you through your application process, to helping you learn about specific residency programs. Start with friends, family, friends of family, family of friends, classmates, faculty, preceptors, and branch out from there. The resources below are great for building your network:

  • LinkedIn: A widely used professional tool, LinkedIn can help you connect with people and groups aligned with your career goals. Search for other SUNY Upstate students, faculty and staff; Connect with alumni from Upstate and your undergraduate alma mater; join groups related to your areas of interest; Identify residents and other employees who work at facilities of interest and conduct informational interviewing; and more!
  • Professional Associations 

Writing Your Resume / CV

Writing a resume/CV is a lot like creating a brochure; you’re the product and you need to showcase your best and most relevant features. If you went to Best Buy to purchase a phone, they would do research, ask you questions like why you’re replacing the one you have, what you’re looking for, what you like and don’t like. What they would not do is attempt to sell you a refrigerator or a television just because they also sell those items. You need to approach your entire search process in much the same way. Just because something is in your store does not mean you need to sell it! Do your research! What is important in your desired specialty area? How can you effectively highlight your unique features to the "customer"? Sell them a phone and things related to phones, not refrigerators and TVs. 

A curriculum vitae (CV) and resume are similar documents, but not identical. A medical CV will be almost exclusively focused on experiences directly related to medicine and things important to medicine. A CV can be many pages long and frequently includes things like research, publications and presentations. A resume, while potentially also including these things, is limited to two pages and may include other experiences beyond those related to medicine. It is not uncommon for students’ documents to more closely resemble a resume, as they have not yet had the depth of experience necessary for a full-blown CV. 

Feel free to use this Word document resume/CV template if formatting is not your thing. 

There's also this great list of Bloom's Taxonomy action verbs that would be excellent to begin some of your bullets with!

Residency Application Essay

The application essay/personal statement is one of many important components of your residency application. It will need to answer three questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why did you choose your specialty?
  3. Why are you a great candidate for a residency in that specialty?

The SUNY Upstate website has some very useful tips for writing a personal statement, so be sure to read through the advice provided. 

Getting stuck? It's not uncommon. Many students will comment that their writing seems cold and forced. A great tip is to throw formality out the window for your first draft. Instead, write an essay about why you really, really, really want to be a physician and how it would be totally awesome to work in a certain specialty area. It's impossible to be formal when you use that language and you'll get to some of the genuine reasons for "why you?" and "why this specialty?" THEN take the ridiculous language out.

Interviewing for Residency