Medical School Letters of Recommendation: Overview and How to Get One

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When you apply to medical school you will need to submit letters of recommendation (LORs) from professors along with the primary application. The process of submitting the letters is either coordinated by your undergraduate university (by using a letter service or a premedical committee letter) or by a professional letter service, and this depends on which undergraduate university you are attending.

If your school has a premedical committee which generates a letter on your behalf then all you will need to submit is this letter. Otherwise, in general, you will need at least two letters of recommendation from science professors and one letter of recommendation from a non-science professor. In addition, you can have a letter from a principal investigator of a research project you are working on or a letter from a physician you have worked with. With regards to osteopathic medical schools you should have a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician (D.O.). You can also include letters from employers or volunteer coordinators who knew you well. You should probably limit the number of LORs at five. You want your LORs to strongly recommend you to medical school. They should speak about your character and the nature of your relationship with the letter writer.

Asking for a letter of recommendation may be a little daunting, especially if you attend a large undergraduate university with hundreds of premed students in your courses. You may feel that your professor does not know you very well, and you are probably right in this. But you should understand that part of a professor’s job is to recommend select students for further study. Most professors had to be recommended themselves and they understand that this is part of the academic process. And you can strive to create more solid relationships with your professors by attending office hours and creating a presence for yourself. When you perform well in a course (A- or higher) you should consider asking the professor for a LOR.

Ideally, you should approach your professor in person and ask them if they would feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation on your behalf. If they are unsure, or you do not know the professor well enough for him to recognize you, this strategy will not be helpful. An alternative approach could be via e-mail. The two approaches are outlined below

 

THE IN PERSON APPROACH

  • Go to your professor’s office hours. Then follow the script below
    • “Hello Dr. X, I am Y, I just finished taking your Z class this past quarter and I performed very well in it. I was wondering if you would feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf for medical school.”
    • Wait for their response. If it is a positive response then say “Thank you” and hand them a packet of information as detailed below and make sure to tell them when you need the letter of recommendation by. Be aware that the professor may want to talk about some of your academic and extracurricular accomplishments to get to know you better prior to writing the LOR. You should be prepared to do this at the time you meet with them.

THE E-MAIL APPROACH

  • E-mail your professor and use the following script as a guide
    • “Dear Dr. X, I recently completed course Y with you this past quarter and I feel my performance really exemplified my academic abilities. I was wondering if you would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf to medical school. If you are willing to, I would like to meet with you to further discuss my background and my interest in medicine so you could get to know me a little better. Please let me know what you think about this. Thanks, Z”
    • If they respond positively they may ask to meet you in person or for you to email a packet of information to them (see below).

The packet of information referred to above includes the following:

  • Academic transcript
  • Personal Statement draft
  • Resume
  • Any copies of work you submitted for the course (papers, projects, etc.)
  • Stamped envelope
  • Any forms needed to be sent with the LOR
  • The date the letter needs to be submitted by and any submission instructions
  • Your AMCAS/AACOMAS ID# and/or Letter ID or Interfolio/Virtual Eval information

Once you have had this meeting/exchange with your professor follow up to ensure that the LOR was received. You should generally give them (and tell them that they have) 2-4 weeks to complete the LOR. Once the LOR is received you should follow up with the professor and send them a thank you card and a small token of your appreciation (chocolates, starbucks gift card, etc.). If they have not sent the LOR in within the requested time frame send them a gentle reminder e-mail or send them a thank you card in advance and this will serve as a reminder.

 

Tips:

  • Ask your professors for LORs right after you finish their courses and receive your grade. Do not wait to do this.
  • Get to know your professors by meeting with them during office hours. Have intelligent questions prepared for them when you do meet with them.
  • Follow up with your professors and send them a thank you card. This will reinforce the process of LOR writing and they will be more likely to remember you if you need their recommendations in the future.

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