Letters Of Recommendation (LORs)

Hello Aspiring Physicians,

I hope your summer is going well. Maybe this is a relaxing time in your journey to becoming a physician or maybe this is the crunch time for exams. At some point along your path, you will be asked to provide letter of recommendations in your application. Where these letters really become important is on your residency application. If you are already out in the real world these letters are equivalent to your reference letters for your job.

I get so many questions regarding this topic like how many letters do I need, who should I ask, would if I don’t know any faculty that know me that well, would if I get asked to write my own letter, and the list goes on. The LORs can be just as nerve-wrecking as the MCAT or USMLE/COMLEX exams. And you know what – you should take this part very seriously because who you ask to write your letter can make or break your career. Not to scare you but please do not blow off this segment in your application.

I will tell you about my experience getting my LORs then we can go into some pearls to help you out. Most people are aware that Orthopedic surgery is one of the more competitive specialties and I was told that I need to get a LOR from one of the prestigious surgeons that I was fortunate to work with on my rotations in medical school. I was told that if I got a LOR from this surgeon that every door to residency and fellowship will be wide open. I thought to myself okay I will rotate with him and ask him for a letter at the end of my rotation. I made sure that I introduced myself, he knew my name, where I was from, and what I was interested in and I thought the rotation went very smooth. I asked him for a LOR and his staff gave it to me literally the next day. Normally, you get the LOR in a sealed envelope or they send it to the program that you are applying to. Well his staff handed me the letter without an envelope so of course I read the letter. And oh my, I am glad that he gave it to me exposed because it was the worst letter ever. The horrible thing about it was that it was a generic letter and he forgot to change the gender from him to her. I was so grateful that he gave me that letter open because if I would have sent that letter to my programs I definitely would not have matched anywhere. Luckily, he was my first rotation and I had other LORs that I used on my application.

So this goes into my first piece of advice – just because the doctor is well known and maybe famous, does not make them the best person to ask for a letter.

Before you ask a doctor for a LOR, ask yourself these questions:

Did I do well on their rotation?

Does the physician think highly of me?

Did I work closely with this physician?

Did he/she show interest in me as a person?

Can the writer include specific experiences from our work together that reflect my strengths?

Does the writer care about me and my future?

Can he/she write a letter that will best reflect my background and strengths?

Does the physician have good communication skills?

  • It’s better to have 2-3 good solid LORs from doctors/surgeons who know who very well then to have 6 mediocre LORs from well-known physicians.
  • Do not request a letter from a resident. If you have an awesome resident on your team during your rotation and you get along really well and they know you really well, that’s a great individual to have as a mentor but a LOR from a resident will be discarded immediately.
  • The chairman’s letter in medical school is critical to your residency application. Make sure you set some time aside to meet with your chairman so that they can get to know you and be able to write a detailed letter on your behalf.
  • How do you even approach a faculty member to write you a letter. Well here’s a start, ” Dr. X, do you feel you know me and my work well enough to write me a strong letter of recommendation?” If they say no, then don’t get your feelings hurt and just move on.
  • Always request your LOR at the end of your rotation. Do not wait 3 months after your rotation to ask because they may have forgotten about you.
  • Always have your CV available or maybe a little bio if your faculty asks for some additional info to help them write your LOR.
  • Be careful if you are asked by the faculty to write your own letter. Some students love this but the problem is that it’s really hard to talk about yourself without it looking very similar to your personal statement. My advice would be to avoid writing your own letter because most programs will be able to tell easily on your application.
  • Last but not least, send your faculty a thank you note after they have sent the letter. They took time out of their schedule to help your career. Most hand-written thank you notes are much appreciated.

Hope this helps you out. Don’t be discouraged if you only have 2 LORs. Just make them count. Make sure the letter writer knows you and your work and you will be just fine. A good LOR just adds the cherry on top of a stellar application.

As always study hard, keep your head up and enjoy the journey.


Your Med Mentor

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