Medical School Letter of Recommendation - How to Get the Best Evaluations

Here’s how to go about obtaining your medical school letter of recommendation.

To get admitted, you need someone to vouch for you candidacy and I’m going to show you how to get the best letters possible.

Plus, discover who you should be asking and when.

Seriously, this is going to be your must read piece that will walk you step by step through the process of requesting your letters of recommendation for medical school.

The 3 P’s of Who Should Be Writing?

Who should be writing your medical school letter of recommendation

At a minimum you will need three letters of recommendation to apply to medical school.

To cover your bases, these are the three individuals you need to get a medical school letter of recommendation from:

  1. Professor in your college major
  2. Professor in the sciences
  3. Physician

These individuals will be able to speak to your ability and fitness to pursue a career in medicine. Plus, they will give an opinion of how you stack up to your peers who are applying to medical school.

Professors will often say, “Karen, is one of the most remarkable students I have taught, she is very inquisitive and intellectually astute and I highly recommend her without any reservations.

Grades only tell one side of the story so your letter writers can fill in the blanks from a more professional perspective hence why you need these letters to be from individuals who have taught you formally.

One important letter is the one you get from a physician.

The doctor's medical school letter of recommendation is typically obtained following a shadowing experience. 

The physician is going to write about your commitment to medicine and if they believe you fit into the profession.

You’d actually be surprised to know there are applicants who want to become a doctor however, there’s something that’s not all quit there.

This is one of the reasons why the application process for medical school includes an interview. The medical school admissions committee needs to see you in person and know you can get along well with patients, medical staff, etc.

But enough of that.

Back to the topic of medical school letters of recommendation.

Once you have satisfied professor and physician letter writers you have more leeway.

Additional letters can certainly be obtained from those who have worked with you in a supervisory capacity such as:

  1. Boss from work
  2. Clergy
  3. Student group advisor
  4. Supervisor from volunteering

These individuals can speak to your work ethic, how you are as a person and give insight about your potential.

Do Big Names Matter?

For the average premed this is the million dollar question, “Do I ask the famous person who is a celebrity in their field or do I go with the lesser known person who knows me well?

Folks, this should be a no-brainer.

Go with the person who knows you the best when it comes to your medical school letter of recommendation.

You want a writer who can speak highly of you and really make the case for your medical school candidacy.

Always remember the goal is to get into medical school so that you can become a doctor!

Plus, the whole purpose of every part of your medical school application is to allow admissions officers to determine who they want to accept.

If you have someone who knows you well it will come across in what they have to say about you and potentially sway the admissions committee to move forward with your application. As you want a genuine medical school letter of recommendation.

Compare this to using a “famous” letter writer.

All they would have to say is that you would be a good candidate for medical school and think you would be successful.

This is so generic and does not get the job done at all.

Big time letter writers are often very busy and just do not have the time to get to know all their students nor sit at a computer and compose a glowing letter of recommendation that makes the strongest case of why you should be admitted to medical school over everyone who is vying for one of the limited number of first year medical school seats.

At the end of the day when in doubt always choose to go with the writer who knows you best for your letter of recommendation for medical school.

You Have Options So Use It To Your Advantage

The process of applying and getting into medical school has changed.

If you’re applying today you have more options than when I was in your shoes.

Did you know you can now target which medical schools receive which medical school letter of recommendation?

In the past you could not do this. Rather all your letters of recommendation were sent to the medical schools.

Now you can cherry pick which medical schools receive which letters.

For example, let’s say you have a professor who has very strong connections to a medical school you’re interested in but this writer may not have the best relationship with you, however they have agreed to write a letter.

If this were the case you would select that this writer’s letter only be directed to the medical school where the professor has ties to the colleagues there which would give you a leg up on the competition.

Obviously, this is a strategy that you would not employ with all of your letters just think of this as a special case scenario.

This is one of the advantages you have with the electronic transmission of medical school letters of recommendation so take full advantage of this possibility when the chance arises.

The Biggest Mistake With Your Medical School Letters of Recommendation

You’re waiting too long to ask for your letters of recommendation.

If you’re premed you know you’re going to need a medical school letter of recommendation so it makes no sense to wait until the year you are applying to medical school to obtain these necessary evaluations.

Here’s what happens when you wait for a medical school letter of recommendation…

You will approach professor so and so for a letter albeit very nervously. The professor will say he is not sure if he is able to write a letter, but you will beg him to do so because it’s required for medical school.

Your professor will counter that he does not have much to say about you because it has been several semesters since he last taught you in class and for all intents and purposes you’re only a “name and number in a lengthy excel grade book.”

However, the pressure is on and you don’t have many options as you think any letter is better than none. You tell him that is okay and you would really appreciate if he can write a letter because you need to get into medical school.

Do you think this letter writer is going to help your chances of getting into medical school if you obtain letters in this manner?

No.

Matter of fact, this will actually hurt your chances of becoming a doctor.

Why?

Medical school admissions is extremely competitive. AdComs are looking for any and every reason to say no to your application. Imagine they are deciding between applicants and decide to look at your medical school letters of recommendation before making a final decision.

One applicant received letters from individuals as he finished the classes and was on a “first name” basis with their professor. Whereas, the other applicant is practically begging a professor to write a letter two years after finishing up a class.

Who do you think is going to have the more compelling evaluations?

A mediocre or boilerplate medical school letter of recommendation will sink your chances of becoming a doctor, so do not wait.

Ask Strongly and with Boldness

Here’s where the rubber meets the road and the actual process you need to go when getting your medical school letter of recommendation.

As on MD/PhD from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine states, “You need to ask for a STRONG letter of recommendation.

Anything short of a STRONG medical school letter of recommendation will not work.

Ask yourself, would you have confidence in someone who couldn’t enthusiastically recommend you? Therefore, if you ask and they:

  • pause
  • need to think it over OR
  • seem unsure

then that is not the individual you want writing a letter to support your candidacy for medical school.

How are you going to read body language?

Pro tip… you need to ask in person for a letter of recommendation.

I know this is scary but you cannot hide behind technology. You actually need to meet your potential letter writer in person and make the ask.

Avoid trying to hide behind:

  • email
  • text
  • phone call OR
  • social media. 

The reason is you have to gauge their response which can only be done in person.

If they cannot commit to writing a STRONG letter on your behalf then look elsewhere.

Believe me it is not worth the trouble and headache of having a lukewarm letter where you will most likely be fighting them to complete the letter on time too.

Delays In Your Medical School Application

One of the biggest stressors for students applying to medical school is getting their applications submitted and completed on time.

However, rarely do you consider that your medical school letter of recommendation can delay your application.

You have to remember every component of your application matters otherwise medical schools would not request these pieces from you.

This means that your medical school letters of recommendation do matter and should be taken seriously. 

I think you need to sometimes look at the world outside from your personal perspective.

Ask yourself why would medical school admissions officers want your evaluations and how do they factor into their admission decision?

They use the information to make a final determination on if you will be admitted or not along with having to decide between equally qualified applicants there needs to be a way to separate one person from another.

Your evaluations from faculty and mentors allow for the admissions committee to get a better glimpse of who you are as a person and certain qualities you may possess. 

Medicine is composed of very logical individuals and they like to have all the information before coming to a conclusion.

Therefore, they will not advance your application until it is complete. Plus, it will make more work on their end if they start to review your application but then had to stop until your medical school letters of recommendation arrive.

Woman typing medical school letter of recommendation

Move Up Your Deadlines to Stay Ahead

Here’s what you need to do in-order to stay ahead of the medical school deadlines.

I encourage all applicants to give a deadline earlier than required for their medical school letter of recommendation.

This is because in most cases you will find significant delays in getting your letter complete even from your most enthusiastic writer.

If the deadline for your letters is the first week of June, then you will be best served in having your writers submit their completed evaluations by mid May at the latest. This will give you some wiggle room for any delays which may arise. 

I cannot tell you how often delays actually occur in your letters of recommendation.

So when you first ask for a letter you also need to make it very clear when you need the letter completed. Also, once they agree to write let them know you will follow up with them periodically to ensure everything is going smoothly.

This is not grounds for you to be a pain and harass your writer.

But at the 45 day interval, 28 days and 14 days you can follow up to ensure the letter is being written and will be submitted on time.

If you ever had that one classmate who always forgot their homework and had an excuse for everything get ready to experience the same from your letter writers.

Shocking, I know but it does happen very frequently.

Some will tell you they forgot because life got busy. Others will say they were at a conference. Others will have administrative work from their jobs. All of these excuses just delay the completion of your letter.

These are all valid reasons and you should not take their absent mindedness personally.

That’s why you padded the deadline and will follow up periodically to ensure they are adhering to your timeframe.

Make Their Job As Easy As Possible

Discussing letter of recommendation

If someone has agreed to write you a medical school letter of recommendation they are doing you a huge favor.

Don’t lose sight of this fact.

You want to make their job as easy as possible.

One way to help the writing process is to inform your writer after they have agreed to write a STRONG medical school letter of recommendation that you will follow up with details about your life to help them write the letter.

What you need to do is have 3 things:

  • Resume/CV
  • Brief biographical sketch and interesting facts about yourself
  • Reason for wanting to become a doctor

These three pieces should be sent to your writer early on after they agreed to write on your behalf. 

Plus, the materials contained in these documents will help them compose a compelling letter with personal tidbits which they may not have otherwise known.

Getting into medical school is extremely competitive.

Having someone write a very personalized letter is going to do wonders for you and these personalized touches will help you standout from other applicants who have generic, boilerplate evaluations.

Medical School Letter of Recommendation Wrap-Up

Everything you need to get started with obtaining your STRONG medical school letters of recommendation.

If you follow everything outlined here you will have plenty of success. 

Plus, you will avoid the dreaded position of writing to a school inquiring about the status of your application only to be told it is incomplete as they are waiting on your letters of recommendation to be transmitted.

In a quick recap use the 3 P’s for writers:

  • Professor in college major
  • Professor in sciences
  • Physician

Ask early, preferably as you are enrolled in a class or just after it’s completion will serve you very well in getting everything completed so that you can have a timely application for medical school.

If you liked what you read today then I strongly encourage you to consider using my expertise to help you successfully get into medical school with my Premed to M.D. coaching services.

As the late Rep. Elijah Cummings said, “Give me 5 minutes of your time and I’ll share what took me 20 years to discover.

Together, we can put you on the fast track towards becoming a doctor.

› Medical School Letter of Recommendation

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