Letters of Recommendation, or LORs, are unique in that they provide program directors with a third-party perspective about the kind of student, person, and potential resident you are. Use this opportunity to your advantage. While there are many places for you to sell yourself on the ERAS application, having positive comments come from a highly regarded professional holds more weight. According to the 2018 NRMP Director Survey, letters of recommendation are ranked as the second most important factor in a residency candidate’s application.
Who to Ask
Letters from U.S. medical or research programs are regarded more highly than letters from foreign programs. This will demonstrate that you have experience within the U.S. medical sphere and are well-adjusted enough to that environment to make for a smooth transition into U.S. residency. A letter from someone who can vouch for your proficiency within your desired specialty is also preferred over one who can detail only your general clinical work. Additionally, try to get letters of recommendation from your 3rd or 4th year in medical school to ensure that they are as recent as possible.
How to Ask
As with all correspondence, politeness and gratitude are essential, and the best way to discuss a letter of recommendation is through a face to face meeting, if possible (if not, a Skype call will suffice). When asking, make sure you emphasize that you would like to know if they feel comfortable writing a strong letter for you. Provide them with the ERAS Letter Request Form, its deadline, your CV, your personal statement, evaluations, information about your chosen specialty and schools, and guidelines on what you would like to be highlighted about you in the letter.
Should You Waive Your Rights to Reading the Letters?
You have the option on your ERAS Letter Request Form of whether or not to waive your right to view the letter prior to submission. Knowing exactly what is being written about you provides peace of mind allows you to tailor other parts of your application accordingly, and gives you the option of deciding which letters to send to which program. However, doing so may also indicate a lack of confidence and reliability to those reviewing your application. Ultimately, it is your decision whether you waive your rights or not. An alternative is establishing expectations and desires about the letter beforehand.
When to Ask
Asking potential letter writers as soon as possible is essential in making your intentions clear from the start and giving your letter writer time to begin observing you from a future residency lens. It is good practice to ask for a letter at least 4-6 weeks before the due date, and continue with follow-ups throughout.
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