Tackling the Letters of Recommendations (LORs): Who to ask and how

LORs are a HUGE component of any medical residency application. According to the 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey, 86% of Program Directors ranked LORS within the top factors for selecting which applicants to interview. Programs Directors rely heavily on the input from their peers. Therefore, it is very important to obtain strong LORS in order to strengthen your application.


Who should I ask to write my LORs?

Who you ask to write your LORs is an important decision and there are many factors to consider. First and foremost- a personalized letter is key! Program Directors can spot cookie-cutter LORs from a mile away. To avoid generic LORs make sure to ask your writer if they are comfortable writing you a strong LOR rather than just asking them to write you an LOR. Most doctors will be very honest with you. You should also aim to get letters from:

  • Attending physicians, (even better ask a program director!)
  • A Program Director or department chair (at least 1!)
  • US physicians (as an IMG or FMG this is very important!)
  • Your supervisor from a research project- Many Program Directors value the advancement of medicine very highly so a letter from a supervisor from your research program can really help you stand out!
  • Majority of your letters should be from doctors within your specialty of interest but it is alright to have some from doctors in other specialties (if you are applying to multiple specialties try to collect as many specialty-specific letters as you can rather than general letters to use for all programs)

What information and documents should I provide to the writer?

In order for your writer to make your letter as personalized as possible it is important to supply them with the necessary information. Be sure to provide:

  • A copy of your CV
  • A specialty-specific personal statement
  • What specialty you are interested in so he or she can make the letter more personal and specific to your goals as a physician.
  • The Letter Request Form (uploading instructions for your writer). This form becomes available only after you have “designated and finalized” your LORs in the ‘Letters of Recommendation’ section of your ERAS application. This must be done for EVERY letter.


Where do I submit my LORs?

It is also important to let your writer know when the letter is due and how to upload it. Typically, most students will waive their rights to see their LORs. This shows Program Directors that you are confident that your writer will write a strong recommendation regardless of you seeing it. In this case the writer will upload the letter directly to ERAS using the AAMC’s LOR portal. If you do not waive your rights to view your LORs you may upload the letters to ERAS yourself.


When should I ask someone to write my LOR?

The short answer is the sooner the better. You need to give your letter writer a fair amount of notice so they can spend time writing you a strong and personalized letter. Typically it is recommended that you give your writer at least 1-2 months of notice. All letters of recommendation should be uploaded by September 1st so make sure to ask your letter writers as soon as possible!


How many letters of recommendation do I need and how recent should they be?

Most programs require 3 LORS but try to secure 4 just in case 1 falls through. There is no limit as to how many letters can be uploaded to ERAS so try to obtain as many strong and specialty-specific letters as you can so you can choose the appropriate letters for each program that you are applying. Most Program Directors like to see letters of recommendation that are written within the past year.