Letters of Reference
Programs may ask you to submit both personal and professional letters of reference. Most people don't have any problem identifying personal references. Letters of reference from particular department heads or faculty present the greater problem.
These letters can be very valuable to program directors looking for some distinguishing characteristics among the many applications they receive. After reading through this manual, everyone will know how to write a good CV and personal statement. The quality of your letters of reference may be the strength of your application.
The following outline tips on letters of reference was developed by the Department of Family Medicine with contributions from medical students at the University of Washington in Seattle. (Leversee, Clayton and Lew, Reducing Match Anxiety, University of Washington, Department of Family Medicine.)
- Your letters of reference often become an important reflection of your academic performance and can also serve as an important source of information about your non-cognitive qualities.
Number of Letters
- Most residency programs request three letters of reference. Sometimes they specify certain departments or rotations from which the letters should originate.
- Be sure to follow directions from the program brochure. For example, some programs will require letters from particular departments, others require letters from attendings rather than residents. Occasionally, a letter from a person not involved in the profession of medicine will be requested.
- Do not send more letters than requested unless you have one that is especially dazzling. Some selection committees suspect "the thicker the application, the thicker the student." Some programs review only the first letters to arrive up to the number they request, and subsequent letters are ignored.
- It is easy to procrastinate. Common reasons include:
- "I don't know anyone well enough to ask for a letter."
- "I hate asking for recommendation letters...I'll wait until August."
- "I did well on surgery, but that was six months ago...they won't remember me..."
- "Dr. Scholarmann is on sabbatical, and I'll just wait until he gets back."
- "I'm an average student, so I'll just get a two-liner from one of my attendings later on...a quick phone call will solve that problem when the time comes."
- "I'll really impress them on my next rotation and get the best letter yet."
- As a courtesy, make arrangements for obtaining letters as soon as possible. You may begin now by requesting letters from previous rotations. Sometimes there is a real advantage in postponing a letter request until you have had a specific rotation if it is obviously an important one for your particular interest.
- Allow at least a month from the time you request a letter until it must be delivered. Bear in mind that faculty are often out of town and that faculty members usually have multiple letters to write.
- It is easy to procrastinate. Common reasons include:
- Requesting a Letter
- In most instances, you will request a letter from a rotation in which you did well, that relates to your chosen field or that was requested by the program brochure.
- When possible, choose someone who knows you well over someone who doesn't. Choosing at least one person who is likely to be recognized by the program is also a good idea. Choose someone who can judge your clinical skills and intentions, not just a friend.
- Request a letter from a mentor in your specialty of choice.
- Avoid requesting a letter from a resident or fellow. They may have the best command of your clinical skills but the attending should write your letter. Help the attending by providing the names of the residents and fellows with whom you worked so the attending can consult them for input if needed.
- Help the person preparing your letter by providing a curriculum vitae, a personal statement and a photograph.
- Make a 15-minute appointment with the letter writer to review your CV personally. Help the letter writer with additional personal information, particularly if you can remind him or her of some specific event or situation in which you think you performed well on his or her rotation.
ERAS allows you to request as many letters of reference as you deem necessary; however, MyERAS will allow you to assign a maximum of four letters to each program. For example, you may request letters of reference from twenty (20) different individuals; however, you may assign only a maximum of four of the possible twenty letters to each program. Writers must submit the letters directly to your designated dean's office. Talk to your designated dean's office to determine their preferred format. MyERAS can print an instruction memorandum customized for each writer. The memorandum explains how to prepare the letter of reference for ERAS and where the letter should be sent. Follow up with letter writers to ensure that the letter arrives in a timely manner and check with your designated dean's office to ensure that the letters have arrived in advance of your first application deadline. Consider having a back-up letter in the event that one does not reach the dean's office before your established deadline.
Strolling Through the Match
This publication was developed to help you make appropriate decisions about your professional career and to learn more about the process of getting post-graduate training.
Download the document(80 page PDF) or order a free copy through the AAFP catalog.