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How to get an Excellent Set of Letters of Recommendation for Residency

Medical Residency Application & Interview Preparation Specialists

Letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of your application for Residency – they will demonstrate that you have the right character for a program, and to succeed in Medicine in general. 

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Choose Wisely

You’ll need to choose who writes your letters of recommendation, and you will have to choose well. In general, the most important factors when choosing a writer for one of your letters are:
– Do they work in a specialty that aligns with your own choices?
– Do they have a particularly positive impression of you / do you get along well?
– Have you spent long enough working together that they can produce a detailed reference?

In fact, the best letters will come from those that you have worked closely alongside, rather than someone who is perhaps a little further removed from you – in other words, a letter from an attending of the specialty to which you are applying is a great choice, whilst a letter from the department head, whilst seemingly prestigious, might actually not be seen in such a positive light.

Additionally, you must be realistic and ask yourself whether you feel you had a positive relationship with the attending in question. If you aren’t sure of where the two of you stand, or what their letter is likely to be like, then be honest and simply ask. Explain that you are getting your letters together, and a letter from them would be of great use – are they able to write a positive recommendation for you? If they aren’t able to, or seem unwilling to commit, then you can ask someone that might be better able to.

All your references should be clinicians that you have worked alongside, rather than supervisors for research – you are looking to prove your ability as a doctor here, rather than as a researcher or in any other field.

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Ask Politely

When asking for the letter of recommendation, try to arrange a meeting with the writer in which you can briefly ask them to perform this task for you. Make sure that you explain that you have enjoyed your time with them and explain how the experience with them has impacted your decision to apply to the residency that you have chosen. You can even try to schedule this meeting a little early so that the two of you are on the same page, with both parties aware that you would like a letter from this specialty in particular – meaning that the attending in question can expect you to work hard to justify your positive letter, and you can expect not to face any nasty surprises in turn. Additionally, providing the writer with time to produce the letter is important – if they are busy, they are unlikely to want to feel a particular time pressure. Remember to provide them with your CV and personal statement so that they can align their writing with your achievements and desires.

Focus on the Right Information and Proceed Correctly

You should ask your letter writer to cover the following for you:
– Why does the letter writer know you, and how well
– In what context have you worked together
– In what specialty have you worked together
– How long did you work together
– How have you demonstrated your ability for the specialty
– How have you demonstrated commitment and motivation for the specialty
– Specific examples of things that you have done particularly well
– Specific things that have made you stand out when compared to your peers

You should look for letters that are longer than one page, and ideally ask writers to provide a little information on what makes you unique outside of Medicine as well (which you can perhaps provide them with some inspiration for).

The majority of Residency programs will require three letters, so ensure that you have this number prepared. You’ll need to submit the letter through the Letter of Recommendation Portal, or through your school. You then manage your letters through the MyERAS portal – you can generate Letter Request Forms for the writers that you want to ask. Make sure to waive the right to view your letters of recommendation, as not waiving the right can set off alarm bells at some programs. They would much rather see that you are confident enough in the content not to have to double-check it.

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