November 2013: Letters of Recommendation (Pulse)

Aloha Mentees,

Its time for the first “MSMP Pulse” email. In these email updates, we will give you general advice and resources for various topics concerning pre-medical students and questions you can ask your mentor.

This month’s topic: Letters of Recommendation (LOR). This may seem like a distant thought for many students in their freshman or sophomore year. However, if you would like solid letters of recommendation, you MUST start thinking about this early. The topics discussed in this email concern everyone, not just those applying this year.

Also before we get started, please check out our FORUM!

Some common questions (questions you can ask your mentor): 

  • When should I ask for LORs? When are LORs due?
  • Who do I ask for LORs? Do they have to be professors and/or doctors? Can they be from committees and advisors too?
  • How many LORs should I send with my application? How do I decide which ones to send?
  • What should I do if I’m not sure if someone can write me a good letter? Should I still ask them for a LOR?
  • What do I do if I can’t think of people to ask for a LOR?

Advice for getting started: 

  • First things first. Develop a professional relationship with your professors, research supervisors, bosses, volunteer project leaders, etc. Even if you are a freshman, you should dedicate some time to building a solid network of professionals to request a letter from.
  • Get to know your professors! Ask them for help with assignments! Visit office hours! Get involved in research projects they are doing!
  • Shadow doctors more than once or twice. Develop a relationship.
  • REQUEST LETTERS EARLY! You must give them AT LEAST a month to write your letter and let them know the DEADLINE of the letters when you are ready to apply (you may need to send a few light reminders).

People to ask:

  • Letters can come from various sources: 1) Individual letter, 2) Committee letters, 3) Letter packets. Find descriptions of each (NOTE: NOT ALL SCHOOLS HAVE A PRE-MED COMMITTEE. UHM students or students from other schools without pre-med committees) shouldn’t worry about the committee letter, since it is not expected from a school that has no pre-med committee.
  • Some schools may have a preference on who you get a letter from (i.e individuals vs. committee, faculty vs. physicians, etc). We will focus on individual letters here.
  • Request from people who know you well and can state why you will be a good doctor (a doctor you shadowed once or a professor you just got an A from is NOT a good example of a letter writer)
  • Physicians you spent a good amount of time with.
  • Faculty who taught you or faculty/mentors you did research with and have a professional relationship with.
  • But DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF. You can also ask bosses or volunteering supervisors (clinical or non-clinical) if you know them well! It can be ANYONE who knows you very well and can say why you would be a good doctor (except family and friends).
  • Unfortunately, NO personal friends, family, co-workers or others should write letters for you!
  • REMEMBER: it is a good idea to ask for letters from a variety of people that can vouch for the different aspects of your ability/personality as an academic, professional, and clinician-to-be. It can be challenging to find one person that knows you well in all realms of your pre-med life (e.g. classes, research, extracurriculars, clinical), so take advantage of the fact that you can submit multiple letters to give admissions committees a full picture of who you are as an individual!
  • Make sure that the writer can truly write you a good letter. Ask them in your request to let you know if they do not know you well enough or cannot write you a positive glowing letter.

How many letters are required for medical school?

  • Many medical schools will have a minimum amount of letters accepted (JABSOM requires AT LEAST 2). Some schools will also have a maximum amount of letters they will accept (i.e. no more than 5).
  • Remember, when it comes to LOR’s, it is quality not quantity. 3 excellent letters are better than 5 poorly written letters. Make sure they can write you a good letter of recommendation.
  • While the minimum amount of letters may be 2, it is good to send in 4-5 strong letters if you are able to. Again, DO NOT send any weak LORs. However, if you get to know your supervisors, professors, physicians, etc. over the years, it should not be hard to find 4-5 people to write you a strong LOR.
  • Remember to think carefully about which letters you would like to send a particular medical school. If you have 7 letters, you do not need to send all of those letters to every school you apply to.

Other Advice: 

  • Be sure to meet the minimum number of letters. However, don’t send in potentially BAD letters.
  • Be sure to follow up with a thank you note to your writers.

Thank you,

MSMP Board

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