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How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation for Residency

By Rachel Shenker, MD

Sub-internships and away rotations are a medical student's time to shine before officially applying to residency. After working hard and giving it your all, how do you ask for that all-important letter of recommendation? The kind of letter that will sing your praises and make your ERAS application stand out? Here are some expert tips on how to identify letter writers and ask for a letter of recommendation:

Ask the residents on your team

Everyone knows you are there to show your skills, contribute to patient care, and of course, end the rotation with a letter of recommendation for your application. The residents know the attendings best and will give you a good sense of who will be thoughtful, reliable, and approachable. Asking early in the rotation about the attendings you are scheduled to work with and who may be good to ask for a letter is a great way to go. This is definitely important for away rotations!

Ask recently graduated students from your medical school

Check out the most recent match list to identify recently graduated students who successfully matched into your desired specialty. Recent grads will have a good idea of who wrote strong letters, as well as those who aren't as good with deadlines.

Have your information handy

Always provide your updated CV, personal statement, and potentially some research you have worked on that is relevant to the potential letter writer’s field. Having this prepared, printed, and ready to hand off shows professionalism.

Ask for a strong letter, and give them the option to say 'no'

Be sure to ask for a strong letter of recommendation. You absolutely don't want a letter from someone who doesn't really want to write one! Make sure you phrase your request in such a way that a potential letter writer can respectfully decline.

Consider offering to draft the letter of recommendation

Writing a letter of recommendation is actually quite time intensive! I have been previously asked to draft my own letter of recommendation, and then the writer will edit and add as they see fit. I have now gotten into the habit of having a general one saved on my computer and will change the context depending on its purpose. This is generally a good practice.

Be mindful of the ERAS deadline

Your letter writers are busy people and I would also recommend telling them that the deadline is 1 week before ERAS is actually due to help save you some stress!

Finally, be sure to thank your letter writers for their time and effort, and definitely let them know where you end up for residency!

Rachel Shenker, MD is currently a chief resident at Duke University's Radiation Oncology Residency. She is a residency application advisor for USMLE Pro. To receive free expert advice on your residency application, or to learn more about our residency application advising services, schedule a free consultation call.

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