Letters of Recommendation
The purpose of a letter of recommendation is to show that you have both the professional
and personal qualities to succeed as a resident and a practicing physician. Letters of
recommendation should supply qualitative information that residency programs consider
important in their evaluation of your application.
Know Which Letters are Needed
Keep in mind that some programs have very specific requirements. For example, you
may need to have a letter from the NU department chair for your area of specialization.
There may also be different requirements in regard to the number of letters needed.
Comply with the specific requirements of each program.
Request Letters of Recommendation at the Right Time
Begin requesting letters during your third year. At the end of a rotation, it is acceptable
to ask a faculty member for a letter of recommendation. Approaching the faculty
member soon after your clerkship is over will give you an advantage as you are fresh in
the faculty member’s mind. Be sure to give the faculty member plenty of time to write
the letter. It is rude to rush someone who is doing you the favor of writing a letter, and
can have impact on what that person writes in your letter.
Ask the Right Person to Write a Letter of Recommendation
Seek out physicians who have given you good evaluations. Consider the following:
• Does the letter writer know me well enough to write a strong letter?
• Does the letter writer think highly of me?
• Can he/she write a letter that will best reflect my background and
• Does he/she have good communication skills?
• Is the letter writer knowledgeable about your skills, talents, work ethic and
• Is he/she committed to you and your goals?
• Can the letter writer provide specific examples and anecdotes for a more
Choose an attending who knows you well rather than a well-renowned figure who
doesn’t know you well enough to write a strong letter that speaks to you and your talents.
Know How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
When requesting a letter of recommendation, ask “do you feel you know me and my
work well enough to write me a strong letter of recommendation?” The best way to ask
for a letter is by making an appointment rather than to ask in passing, sending an e-mail
or leaving a note. Remember to be polite, cordial and professional with your request. If
the person is not comfortable writing a letter for you, thank him/her and know that you
have given him/her an opportunity to politely decline. If the person says “yes,” you can
be confident that the letter will be a positive one.
Give the Letter Writer Enough Time
As a minimum, the letter writer should have four weeks to write the letter for you. If
possible, give more than four weeks.
Provide Your Letter Writers with the Information Needed to Write Your Letter
Soon after asking for a letter of recommendation, write a personalized letter to your letter
writer. It is polite to make your request in writing. Include the basic details for your
• Your contact information
• Request for Letter of Recommendation/Cover Sheet (ERAS)
• Specialty area in which you are applying
• Directions on what to do with the letter once it is completed
• If letter is to be mailed, include an addressed and stamped envelope
• Date recommendation letter is due
• For Residency Applications, letters of recommendation should be completed in
early fall of your fourth year
• Anything else your letter writer has requested to help in the process of writing
• Don’t forget to include a thank you for writing the letter and the letter writer’s
general support of you
In addition to your letter, provide your letter writer with:
• Your curriculum vitae
• Your personal statement
• A copy of their evaluation of you (if applicable)
Be sure to check that the letter is received before the deadline
Thank Your Letter Writers
After the letters have been sent out, be sure to send each of your letter writers a personal
thank you note. Remember that e-mail is not personal.
Adapted from “The Residency Match: 101 Biggest Mistakes and How to Avoid Them” by
Samir P.Desai, MD.