Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reference Letters / Letters of Recommendation

Reference Letters / Letters of Recommendation

An important part of the medical residency application process is getting strong letters of recommendation. These reference letters are the residency program director’s insight into your personality and clinical ability. Therefore, the recommendation letters should depict you as a confident, dependable and academically strong physician. Remind the physician writer about your background, accomplishments and medical career goals by giving him a copy of your residency CV and personal statement. Medical Residency applicants can then use the ERAS match system to transmit the recommendation letters to the residency programs of their choice.

Choosing your physician reference letter writer is a difficult task. Enlist the help of colleagues and senior residents to find the right one. An ideal physician letter writer is one who…

· Has expressed appreciation of your medical work

· Has a good standing in the medical academic community

· Is well known to the residency or fellowship program you are applying to

· Knows how to write a strong recommendation letter.

· Addresses the key points that residency program directors are looking for (see below)

Fellowship applicants frequently apply to several programs and it might be a good idea to provide stamps and mailing addresses of the fellowship programs on a computer disk. This helps the Physician reference letter writer and his secretary to mail merge them easily. Expect Physician writers to take 4 to 6 weeks to write your recommendation letter and plan accordingly. Frequent reminders, say once a week, though not always appreciated by the Physician writers, may be necessary to get your recommendation letters out in time. Remember to check with the medical residency program’s secretary to make sure your reference letter has been typed and mailed.

Finally, call the fellowship program to confirm that they have received all your recommendation letters. This ensures that your recommendation letters are not lost in the mail or misfiled. We have heard horror stories of fellowship program secretaries losing completed application forms and recommendation letters. There have also been instances where the fellowship interview invitations were sent to the wrong (misspelt) e-mail addresses. Remember, your fellowship application is not considered complete until the fellowship program secretary receives all the letters of recommendation. This could mean that your fellowship application has not been reviewed by the program director and has been gathering dust on the secretary’s desk. Unnecessary delay can cause you to lose your competitive edge by becoming the 213th applicant instead of the 26th applicant.

When applying to competitive fellowships, Residents from community programs are sometimes perceived by fellowship program directors as weak candidates. You can make yourself appear as a serious candidate by requesting your Physician reference letter writers to give your recommendation letter on the official letterhead of the residency program. This ensures that your university affiliation is prominently displayed.

Generally, letters of recommendation do not say negative statements about you. They all say positive things. As mentioned earlier, there are some key points that medical residency and fellowship program directors look for in a recommendation letter. These include…

· Communication and interpersonal skills

· Positive points in medical school

· Hospital work ethic

· Clinical skills and performance during medical rotations

· Fund of medical knowledge

· Relationship with colleagues and nursing staff

· How patients perceive you (like you, easily bond with you)

· Medical research experience

· Dependability

· Level of responsibility

· Efficiency and time management

· Easy to work with?


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