When it comes to your medical school recommendations, there are certain parts you have control over and certain parts that you do not; and you may actually have more influence than you realize.
Who you ask – that’s on you. Asking with enough time until the deadline – again, that’s you.
What your recommender writes – well, you actually have some control here. While, ultimately, what your recommender says about you is up to them, you do have some influence. By supplying them with the right information and tips, you can help them write the best possible recommendation for you.
Below you’ll find tips that you can pass along to your recommenders, as well as samples that will give your recommenders ideas for writing.
Advice for med school recommenders:
As a recommender, you might simply think back to your former or current student and think of the fond memories you have, perhaps review their scores and grades in your course(s). However, to give them the support they (hopefully) deserve, here are some simple things you can do to truly provide the most thorough and helpful recommendation on their behalf. (Note: the applicant might initiate many of the following requests):
9 tips for letters of recommendation writers
- Request a copy of the applicant’s personal statement so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with – not conflict with or duplicate – the rest of the application.
- Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information like a resume, transcripts
- Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants, and the ways in which the applicant has distinguished themself. For example:
I have been teaching for twenty years and have advised approximately 450 students on independent research projects over the last five years. Jen’s project was unlike any of the others I’ve advised, certainly in the top 10%.
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. Tyrell distinguished himself from the other interns in his focus and dedication [provide examples].
- 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.
Jane 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.
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 Joe 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.
Joe is the only student I 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 ten percent in the class to receive an A.
Because of Jane’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.
- Avoid generalities and platitudes.
- Avoid artificial criticism, which usually comes in the form of the flip-side of a strength, eg, “He tries too hard/cares too much/ is too humble.” Instead, strive for authentic criticisms that you can couple with sincere ways in which the student has worked to acknowledge and correct this flaw, eg, “As Tom’s grades reveal, he did not perform his best in our second semester together. When we met to discuss this, Tom explained his circumstances and the ways in which he could have better managed his time to allow for more study-time; the following term, Tom implemented these changes and radically improved his performance.”
- Discuss the applicant’s potential in his or her chosen field.
With her exceptional interpersonal and research skills, Jane will be an outstanding doctor and a credit to the medical school she attends. I would not be surprised to meet Jane running a complex and high-energy ER in ten years.
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