5 Keys To A Killer Medical Cover Letter

Killer Medical Cover Letter

It’s 2am, and you’ve just finished a long shift. Job applications are due by 5pm on the same day, and you’re only halfway through your cover letter. It’s only supposed to be one page long, but you can’t even get to a full page, because you have no idea what to say. In desperation, you consult Google, searching for “Cover letters for doctors in Australia” (or whatever your profession is). You come across a nice template, break out the thesaurus, and a few synonyms later you’ve got your very own version.

The downside to this is that you risk your cover letter going straight to the bin, and there are some keys to avoiding your application suffering this fate.

You might ask – are cover letters even relevant anymore? Well, it’s true that cover letters are no longer popular in the private health sector, but they are definitely still expected in most public hospitals.

The basic purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself, and often to address selection criteria. The cover letter ought to be:

  • Interesting
  • Compelling
  • Well structured
  • A tool of differentiation

And, it needs to address the requirements of the application process.

So, what can you do to build a killer cover letter?


1. Get The Basics Right

Ok, this isn’t revolutionary, but is the number one problem with cover letters. The basics aren’t there. By ‘the basics’, I mean:

  • Ensure it is in the correct format of a letter
  • Include up to date contact details
  • Address the recipient correctly. If you don’t know whom it should be addressed to, call the employer and ask them. Avoid “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”
  • Ask a friend to proof-read it
  • Save it in PDF – that way, file formats won’t be a problem
  • Use sensible formatting – Arial or Times font, only in black
  • Follow any instructions or restrictions the employer has provided (e.g. number of pages)

The most embarrassing mistake you can make on cover letter is to re-use the letter for multiple positions and employers, and then fail to change the details for that particular job application. Of course, you can reuse copy, but scrutinise everything you send out.


2. Be Authentic

A candidate who comes across as being authentic on a cover letter is like a ray of sunshine. The easy part about being authentic and genuine is that you don’t have to force it. Just be you.

When you’re planning your cover letter, consider:

  • What do you want to convey and project about yourself?
  • What words would you or others use to describe you?
  • Are there genuine points of differentiation that separate you from other candidates (there always are!)  
  • What do you want to highlight on your CV? Point the reader in the right direction

By avoiding trite statements, you’ll add a layer of uniqueness to your application that others will lack.

3. Selection Criteria

 Most medical cover letters will require you to address selection criteria. You’ll usually find these in the advertisement and/or the position description. If you are unsure about what the selection criteria are, ask the employer.

You need to address every single criterion. It’s okay to combine some, but you need to cover off on everything. It is a good idea to use dot-points and headings to make it clear which particular requirement you are responding to.

By illustrating your real-world experience, or education in each response, you are providing a point of differentiation for each criterion.


4. Be Original

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue.” – Stephen Fry.

I could write a whole article on this topic (and maybe I will), because the challenge of excluding cliches from job applications seems unsurmountable for 99% of the population. Refer back to number 2 – Be Authentic. There’s no such thing as an authentic cliche.

These phrases are like old boots – everyone has them, and they’re not so useful.


Instead Of Consider
“My name is X and I am applying for ….” Put the job name in the subject of the letter. They already know what your name is.
“I have excellent communication skills” Talk about how you’ve used your communication skills with patients, families, and colleagues. What is it about your communication style that will help you in this job?
“I am available at your convenience” They know this. Leave it off.
“It is with much enthusiasm that” Something to capture their attention. For example “This year, I completed a research project in XYZ in preparation for a career in….”
“I work well independently and as part of a team” Again, give examples. And some people don’t work well in both situations. Don’t just say it.
“My referees are available on request” Leave it off.
“Strong skills in ….” Tell stories of how you have applied your skills in real life cases.
“[Employer Name] particularly interests me because…” Instead of ingratiating yourself to the employer, show them how you will fit into their organisation, and culture.
“I look forward to discussing my application further at interview” Leave it out.
“Outside the box thinking” Put this phrase back in the box.
“Interdisciplinary [anything]” Talk about how you deal with colleagues and other health practitioners in your team, and provide case examples.
“I am the best person for the job because….” If this isn’t clear from the rest of the letter, you’ve got a problem. Forget it.


5. Building The Sandwich

Like most pieces of writing, it should have a beginning, middle, and end.

The start of the letter should set the context, and needs to jump out at the reader. Remember, they may be reading the 251st letter of the day, so you best get their attention.

The body of the letter is the meat of the sandwich (or tofu, if that’s what you’re into). This is where the selection criteria will feature, and it should be structured well through bold, headings, and dot points. It must be easily readable.

The conclusion is what ties it together. Bring the reader back to your initial ‘attention grabbing’ statement from the start, and use this part to refer to something of interest on your CV. Leave them with sufficient information, but also curious to learn more about you.

Brevity is important. Keep it as short as possible, within the requirements stated by the employer. Long cover letters are, well, boring. As part of the editing process, look at your use of words, sentence structures, and grammar. Actively seek out ways to make your point with fewer words.

For example, instead of this:

In my current role as a medical registrar, I manage a team of two interns and a resident medical officer. Since starting this position in January, I have developed my supervision skills, and completed a ‘Teaching On The Run” course, which has helped me build my ability to teach as part of a busy day, managing 30-40 patients.


I manage two interns and a resident. Since January, my supervision skills have developed, and completing ‘Teaching On The Run’ gave me a new perspective on teaching while at the same time looking after 30-40 patients.


The point is that you shouldn’t write job applications at 2am after a long shift. Don’t risk your career on a generic template. Be authentic, stand out, and get the job.


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