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Career Resources Cover Letters and References

  • Cover letters typically accompany a curriculum vitae (CV).
  • Reference letters should only be provided upon request.

Cover Letters

What is a Cover Letter?

You may be considering whether or not you should include it in your application. Your cover letter is used to elaborate on your CV in further detail. It gives you the opportunity to highlight your strengths, describe your professional goals and give the employer a deeper look at you as a person.


Cover letters follow a very basic format. The letter should be adtressed to the employer and should consist of an introductory paragraph, a body paragraph, and a closing paragraph (or conclusion).

Introductory paragraph
— state why you are applying for the position
Body paragraph
— expand on your skills, personal reasons for applying, and professional reason for applying
Closing paragraph (conclusion)
— re-visit any highlights and thank the employer for reading your cover letter

Your cover letter should not be more than a page long. The letter is accompanying your CV, so every detail included on your CV should not also show up in your cover letter. Instead, focus on the key elements that will help you stand out as the best candidate. When you are finished writing, sign your cover letter and list contact information (phone number or email address) under your name.


As we previously mentioned, your cover letter will be accompanying your CV, so all details in your CV should not also be in your cover letter. Your cover letter should explain why you are a perfect fit for the job. It is also important that you are direct in your letter. Do not use generic language and be sure to tailor your cover letter to each opportunity you apply for. Try to include the organization's name, the recruiter's name, and location somewhere in your letter naturally.

Your cover letter also gives you the opportunity to discuss your professional aspirations. This is where you should mention what type of practice is the most ideal for you and what you are looking to do in the future. Explain why and how this opportunity lines up with your future goals.

It is also acceptable to include personal reasons for applying to an opportunity. You aren't able to do this in your CV, so you should include it in your cover letter. Mentioning personal reasons for applying to an opportunity helps employers see you as a human rather than just a physician.

Reference Letters

Who should I use?

The references you choose should be people who are willing to write positive letters for you. You could choose a program director, attending physician or anyone else that you work closely with at your organization. Make sure that whoever you choose knows what your duties are on a daily basis. They should also know more about you than the fact that you work together on rounds. If you practice medicine at multiple locations, try to pick someone at each location to write you a reference letter.

How do I know who to pick?

Be sure to screen your candidates. Just because you choose someone to write a letter of recommendation for you does not mean that they will write to the best of their ability. Find out who your best promoters will be by asking them questions.

You should ask questions like:
  • Would you be willing to write me a reference letter?
  • How would you describe me to others?
  • Would you be willing to give an example of my skills?
  • Do you have time to write me a letter or be contacted by a potential employer?

You should ask your references to include things about you in their letter that are relevant to the job you are applying for. For example, if a job you are applying for requires you to be a team player, ask your references to give examples of you being a team player

Although you may be worried that your references won't know what to say about you in their letters, you can coach them on what they should include. You should also provide each of your references with information about the job(s) you are applying for, so that they can write a letter specific to each opportunity. If you find that you are still nervous about the contents of the letters, read them before sending them off. With that being said, do not change anything about the letter without permission from the reference. If there are errors of any kind, reach out to the reference(s) and ask them to adjust the letter.

Can I use a past reference?

Using a past reference is fine as long as you confirm with them that they are okay being a reference for you. If you have not worked with them in awhile, they may no longer be okay with being a reference for you.

How do I list out my references?

You should have three to six references who will write letters for you and agree to being contacted by a potential employer to provide a reference for you. If any of them have asked to be listed as confidential, make sure that you do so. You should include each reference's title, name, medical organization, and the nature of the reference (personal or professional). Even after you've gained permission to use someone as a reference, you should always make sure you request their preferred method of contact and list only that method.

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