Letters of Recommendation for Medical School: Guidelines

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The letters of recommendation that you submit along with your medical school application are one of the most important components of applying to medical school. Letters of recommendation give the admissions committees valuable insight into the kind of person you are, what other professionals in the academic and professional world think about you, how you interact with others and whether you are capable of handling the challenging curriculum towards becoming a doctor.

Scrubbed up and ready to observe a day in surgery Who should you approach to get a letter of recommendation?

Most medical schools require two to three letters of recommendation. Ideally, two of these should be from the science faculty at your undergraduate institution and one from a professional at a healthcare facility or any clinical setting in which you spent some time volunteering or working in any capacity.

Letters of recommendation by family and friends usually hold no weight with admissions authorities as these are likely to be skewed in your favour and do not give the real picture of your capabilities.

Thinking of approaching an ‘important’ or ‘influential’ person in your community for a letter of recommendation? Unless they have the credentials or true knowledge of your academic abilities, you’d be wasting your time pursuing this course. Your ‘don’t approach’ list should include school alumni, teaching assistants, celebrities, politicians and clergymen, unless they have directly interacted with you in some professional capacity and can provide specific feedback that can influence the medical school admissions process.

Spend time with your letter writer

Develop a relationship with the people who you are approaching for a letter of recommendation. It is only natural that the best letters will be from people who have spent some time with you and gotten to know you well. Spend more than just a couple of hours at physician shadowing. The more time you spend with the doctor, the better he will get to know you and the more impressive the letter of recommendation is likely to be. Spend time with faculty or researchers who you are planning on approaching to write a letter for you. 

Pay attention to submission guidelines for each school

Different medical schools have different stipulations with regards to how many recommendation letters students need to submit. Find out how many each of the schools you are applying to has asked for and limit your submissions to meet those requirements. Even if you have more letters do not send them it. Extra letters will only clutter your file and the best letters may get overlooked and not read at all. 

Should you write your own letter and just get it signed?

It may sound surprising but many people who you approach for a recommendation letter may ask you to write it out yourself and they would be happy to sign it. Experts strongly advise against this practice. The people who are reading your letters would have read thousands of letters over the years and they can sense immediately whether the letter is genuine or just fabricated. School authorities want ethical students who offer an honest assessment of their credentials and any indication that you may have written the letter yourself is enough for the authorities to dismiss your application. 

Taking the time and trouble to get a proper recommendation letter written can have a huge impact on whether or not you are granted admission into medical school.   

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