Letters of recommendation are a medical school admissions requirement that you should ideally complete months before you apply. Not just any generic letter of recommendation will make your application stand out, so read the following to learn how to get great letters of recommendation that will be a major asset for your application.
What is a letter of recommendation for medical school?
A letter of recommendation is an assessment of your abilities, character and performance by someone that has appropriate standing to make the assessment. (Usually someone who knows you well.) Letters of recommendation are frequently requested by graduate school admissions programs.
Send this tips directly to your recommenders to guide them through the LOR writing process.
- Review a copy of the applicant’s personal statement. You want to see what the applicant has written so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with – not conflict with or duplicate – the applicant’s story.
- Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information. By viewing these materials, you’ll get to know the applicant better – his or her past achievements and experiences – and further make sure that your letter complements the rest of the application.
- Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants. For example:
- I have been teaching for twenty years and have advised approximately 450 students on independent research projects over the last five years.
- I have personally supervised ten interns every summer for the last five years plus worked with over two hundred college students in the Big Medical Center ER.
- Discuss how well you know the applicant. For example:
- I was able to get to know Joe because he made it a point to attend two of my sections every week when only one was required.
- Sarah did research in my laboratory for two years, and I worked very closely with her.
- Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant. For example:
- Jane has a rare blend of top research, analytical, and interpersonal skills.
- The combination of tenacity, willingness to help, and good communications skills found in Henry is truly unique.
- In discussing those qualities, support your statements with specific instances in which he or she demonstrated those attributes. Be as concrete and detailed as possible. For example:
- Ben is the only student I have ever had who came to all my office hours as part of a relentless – and successful – drive to master biochemistry. He was one of just 10% in the class to receive an A.
- Because of Carla’s research and communications skills, I didn’t hesitate to ask her to monitor epileptic patients and prepare electrodes to be implanted in their bilateral temporal lobes. Her quality work contributed significantly to a paper we co-authored and presented to the Society for Neuroscience.
- Try to quantify the student’s strengths or rank him or her vis-a-vis other applicants that you have observed. For example:
- He was in the top 10% of his class.
- She has the best research skills of any person her age that I have ever supervised.
- Avoid generalities and platitudes. Anyone can write a generic letter. Adcoms can see through these generalizations and won’t take your recommendation seriously. You could end up doing more harm than good.
- Include some mild criticism, typically the flip-side of a strength. For example:
- The only fault I have encountered in Jude is his retiring nature. His modesty sometimes hides a young man of remarkable sensitivity and broad interests.
- Occasionally, Melanie’s fortitude and persistence can turn into stubbornness, but usually her good nature and level-headedness prevail.
- Discuss the applicant’s potential in his or her chosen field. For example:
- I enthusiastically recommend Alex to your medical program. This well-rounded student will be a fine, compassionate doctor.
- With her exceptional interpersonal and research skills, Justine will be an outstanding doctor and a credit to the medical school she attends.
Sample Medical School Letter of Recommendation