The basic steps for applying abroad: Preparing the CV, SOP and LORs

The first blog on the road to securing an international fellowship/ position is on the initial basic steps and some advice. These would be applicable irrespective of which country you are applying at.

1. Training abroad is overall an excellent experience. It of course makes you a better radiologist, but also broadens your perspective as a student of medicine. The experience of staying in a different country on your own (or with your spouse), of staying, cooking, traveling, and managing finances on your own etc also adds a lot to your personality and character. Overall, going abroad for subspecialty training will usually make you a better radiologist and a better person.

2. However, you have to balance this with your future plans and interests, and your financial situation. There are great opportunities to obtain subspecialized training even in India, and that may be the right decision for you.

3. It is a big decision. Take your time! Decide on the pros and cons, on whether you wish to go for training and come back or whether you plan to stay there long-term, and on what is the current situation for international applicants in that particular country.

4. Try to speak with a few people who have gone abroad. Listen to their experience; not just for understanding how to successfully apply, but to understand what life in that country as a trainee and subsequently as a consultant radiologist entails. The decision to go abroad must be an informed choice.

5. Understand the process of applying for training (and for eventual board certification and immigrant visa approval if you wish to stay there long-term). In other words, you must understand each and every step needed for applying; which exams need to be given, is the application process centralized or will you need to apply separately to each and every institute, which is the appropriate visa for you, and ultimately how long will it take to get board certified and finally be allowed to practice on your own.

6. Understand when can you apply for a particular fellowship. For example, fellowship applications in Canada open at least two years in advance, and so if you decide to apply in 2018, you will be eligible only for the 2020-21 fellowship. So you need to be prepared to wait that long (or to plan ahead and apply in time).

7. Every international fellowship application needs three things: a CV (curriculum vitae), statement of purpose (SOP), and letters of recommendation. You should be ready with these before your USMLE/FRCR (or whichever qualifying exam needs to be given) results are out, so that you do not lose any more time and can apply immediately once the results are out.

8. The CV is an account of your education, achievements and experience. Unlike the other documents, this is a statement of facts. You would need a CV for applying to both Indian and international positions and jobs. A good CV is a work over multiple years; you cannot decide to make your CV look good and expect it to happen in a matter of months. A good idea thus would be to assume that you will need a good CV later on and work towards it all throughout MBBS (medical school) and MD.

9. A CV will include basic personal demographics, history of medical education, work experience (if any), any grants/scholarships received, research activities including conference presentations and papers published or in press (but not work in progress or under review), any major awards received (like best poster or a Certificate of Merit etc), and educational activities if substantial. Try to ensure that there is something to write in most (if not all) of these titles during your residency.

10. Packaging the product is also important. Make the CV look professional and pleasing in appearance. This is the only paper which tells them more about how good you are; let it stand out from the rest. The layout, font size, alignment and spacing should be uniform. There should be no errors with language; that is a huge put-off otherwise. Google online to see how good CVs are made. I have attached my old CV format circa fellowship application time here as an example.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 8.45.53 AMScreen Shot 2017-12-08 at 8.46.02 AM

11. Statement of purpose/letter of intent tells them your story. You should make it short (a page long at maximum). Tell them why you are applying for the fellowship, and how you will be a good fit for the institute and contribute to its growth. If you have a good personal story to narrate, say it. I believe my SOP was a little excessively long, but I have again attached it here as an example. You can google and find many good examples and tips on how to write a good SOP.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 8.47.52 AM

12. Letters of recommendation (LORs) are generally mandatory; you will probably need to get one from your departmental head or someone senior (your PG guide for example), one from someone good in the field you want to apply (so if you are applying for a neuroradiology fellowship, then someone good and accomplished in neuroradiology), and then a third from whomsoever you think will give you a good LOR (it may be another radiologist, or it may be someone you have done research with, or it may be a neurologist/neurosurgeon in case you are applying for a neuroradiology fellowship). LORs are always baseline good; no one will submit a bad LOR. So unless there is something extraordinary written about you (which is usually not the case), they are not a game changer. However, do take many copies as some programs may ask for a hard copy rather than a scanned version. Most faculty will expect you to write a draft LOR and then modify and sign it. Importantly, the program may email them directly as well to ask more details; this is where they can make a difference if they say something nice. I have again attached a sample LOR I had obtained for my applications.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 8.46.26 AM

13. Once armed with these, you are pretty much ready to apply as soon as your results are out. The email has to well drafted and short, with no grammatical errors. Always attach your CV (and perhaps your SOP as well) to the email, along with your results (MLE score or FRCR result) in the application email.

More on individual topics coming up soon!

– Akshay Baheti

Edit: The example of the CV I have given above is the traditional way. However, given the adage that less is more, you may consider shortening up your CV to a single page for an application as well. Here is an example of sample one page CV created for Elon Musk by a professional company, just to show that even the achievements of someone as accomplished as Musk can be fitted into one page. While I am not suggesting that you do the same, the professional formatting and design is certainly something to learn from.

PS: You can check our other blogs on training abroad in our section ‘Beyond the Shores’

3 thoughts on “The basic steps for applying abroad: Preparing the CV, SOP and LORs

  1. Canada does not require usmle. For the US, the usmle scores are a distant tie breaking criteria at best. Your CV, publications, letters of recommendation, and interview are what matter most. Having said that, naturally a higher score is good. I had scores of around 250-260 range (86-87 percentile), but I know people with 230s as well who have secured good fellowships.

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