How do you get a great letter of recommendation? We’ve got some helpful tips.
I’m always asked if letters of recommendation are important. They absolutely are, and I won’t even review an ERAS® application until I have at least two letters of recommendation uploaded, no matter how outstanding all of the other information might be.
I look closely at letters from other program or associate program directors or vice chairs of education. They might say something like, “I’ll be recruiting this person to my own program,” which is a great testament to that candidate’s characteristics and strengths. However, letters from hospitalist or ambulatory clinician educators and clerkship directors who have worked closely with the candidate carry as much weight.
Good letters incorporate how the writer knows the medical student, what specialty the candidate is applying to, the qualities of that person that make them an exceptional choice for the specialty in the Match SM, the activities the candidate has engaged in (research/community service) that make the student well rounded, and the kinds of feelings the student evoked in the letter writer (on a personal note, it was wonderful to work with him because of his great sense of humor and positive approach to everything!)
Here are some tips to getting the best kind of letter on time:
Find awesome attendings at your clinical experiences
Arrange a mid-clerkship meeting with the attending you’d like to get to know. This attending can give feedback on how you’re doing in that rotation. Come equipped with an H&P you’ve done or be prepared to talk intelligently about the patient who made the biggest impression on you. Give that attending some personal information about you– how you came to the decision of being a doctor, what your hopes are for your future. Then, incorporate feedback that you’re given into your work and let the attending know that you’ve done so. At the end of the rotation, ask that attending if she’d be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for you. Don’t be shy!
Always waive the right to view your letters
Do you have the right to read your letter of recommendation? Yes. Should you waive that right Absolutely – in all instances! I view it as a red flag when I see that a candidate for residency has not waived his or her right to read the letter. I wonder what’s not being written in the letter.
Choose your writer based on specialty
This may seem obvious, but a letter from a specialist in the area you'd like to match is going to carry a lot of weight. Make sure you do your due diligence and seek out an experience within your chosen field.
Don’t ask your friends or family for letters
Do not ask friends to write a letter attesting to your character, unless that person knows you professionally or knows the decision maker at a program you’re interested in. If you do have a friend who knows a decision-maker, I recommend that person sends a letter or e-mail outside of ERAS.
Give plenty of notice
When it’s time to ask for your letter of recommendation, it’s probably best to ask for the letter in mid July or so. Be sure to have your CV and personal statement in reasonable shape by that time. Stay in touch to make sure your letters are in by the time the ERAS mailbox opens for the programs.
Don’t forget a thank you note
After you match, send a note of thanks letting your letter writers know where you ended up matching. It’s a nice touch, and you never know if you’ll cross paths again. It makes for a memorable professional relationship.
Make sure your letter writer knows you well
You want to avoid having a lackluster and unusually short letters written about you. “He was nice and always was punctual.” This kind of letter indicates that the letter writer didn’t get to know the candidate very well. Remember the letters of recommendation are a critical aspect of your application. You want to attend to them with care, and you must prepare early.
You don’t want to start your application for residency wondering who your letter writers will be. Start your clinical rotations or clinical experiences knowing that one of your objectives is to identify and impress a clinician-educator enough to be able to write an outstanding letter for you.