The Importance of Obtaining a Strong Letter of Recommendation (LOR)
The Letter of Recommendations (LORs) is your deal breaker after your MLE scores for your US clinical experience (USCE). They make sure whether they are getting through for interview or not. A LOR speaks volumes about the candidate beyond the scores and the performance at the medical school. It speaks about the candidate’s clinical judgments, technical abilities, interpersonal skill, medical knowledge, and passion for specialty, patient interactions and professional ethics, which are the most important parameters for your US clinical experience. The program directors may not have time to judge you based on the academic manuscripts, but a good LOR from another program director or a senior researcher in the applied field can help you get a better ranking for the USCE interview.
So, how do we get that strong LOR which will help you shine above the rest and fulfill your USCE dream? Lets see:
Ask & it is given
We need to have a proactive approach on the LOR. First and foremost, target program directors or departmental heads from which you are hoping to get a LOR written. These may be the ones under whom you worked during your clinical rotations to obtain qualifying experience for USCE. Approach them and tell them about your long-term goals about doing residency in your chosen specialty and your interests. Also, let them know if you need to anything specific technical skills that they should focus on for USCE. Remember; get the LOR from the heads of your chosen specialty for getting USCE in that field. We don’t want to give a LOR from a pediatrician when you are hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon. A meeting with the department heads will also let you know their expectations from you, which will help them write a good LOR towards the end. This will also allow them to keep an eye on you throughout your rotation period so that they can remember instances where you showed technical expertise and good interpersonal skills with the patients.
Provide them with extra information
So, your department head or attending physician has agreed to write a LOR for you. But do they really know you? In most cases, the answer will be No. You need to provide them more information about yourself. It is a must to provide your resume and personal statement to the person writing the LOR. These documents will give them an idea about your professional goals. Make your professional goals with more focus on your suture USCE experience. Another way of helping them assess you better is mentioned instances of clinical cases where you outshined the others. Make sure that the concerned person was a part of the discussion at that time. These instances would help you get an edge over the other for your USCE. It would be beneficial to take up cases, which were directly handled by the reviewer in question. The more clinical matter you give the reviewer, the more technical your LOR will be.
Must Have’s in the LOR
It is very easy to forget about mentioning little yet vital things in your LOR for your USCE while taking care of other things like whom to request and what to write. These important things are:
- Make sure the LOR for USCE is on the professional letterhead. If the person concerned does not have a professional letterhead of his or her own, it should be on University letterhead.
- Since, you will be using the LOR for applying in various USCE programs, keep the “addressed to” very generic. It should read “Dear Program Director”.
- The opening of the letter should mention your name and AAMC ID# so make sure that your writer has this information. It should also mention clearly why the recommender is writing this LOR i.e. for successfully obtaining USCE and how does he know you. This will also help the USCE reviewer reading the letter understands where the recommendation is coming from. The letter should be written like a personal promotion.
- Clinical examples – Make sure your writer mentions some clinical cases where you have exhibited medical knowledge, practice of evidence based medicine, professionalism etc. This is very important for any USCE program director as an exceptional clinical acumen and skills is what they are looking for in a student.
- Ending – This should clearly mention the person recommending you straightforwardly for the USCE residency program.
Remember to waive of your rights to view your letter
What does that mean? Well, it means that your writer might directly send the LOR to the PD of the chosen university without you ever knowing what he wrote. I know that sounds risky, but you still have to waive your right to access. If you don’t, it will create a doubt in the mind of the reviewer why you didn’t feel comfortable enough to waive the right and what you were worried the writer might say about you. Also, you are giving an impression of mis-trust to the writer. This might not go well with the writer leading to sub-optimal LOR’s.
Express your gratitude
Don’t forget to thank your writer for his recommendations. It is very human to forget about the person after you have matched. The medical fraternity is very small and it is very important to maintain good interpersonal relationships. The writers are always interested to know whether you are matched or not. Don’t disappoint them.