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Undergraduate Medical Education
Writing letters of recommendation for residency
Letter writers may begin uploading letters of recommendation (LoRs) for residency applications when ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service) opens in May of the year the student is applying for residency. If a student requests a letter from you before this time, we suggest that you draft the letter while the student’s performance is fresh in your memory; however, you will not be able to upload the letter until the student has registered for ERAS. It is highly recommended that letters be submitted by September 15 of the year in which a student is applying.
To help you in preparing a strong LoR, you may ask the student to provide you with a current CV and the personal statement that the student is writing for his/her application to residency. You may also want to discuss with the student his/her goals and aspirations, and specific strengths the applicant believes he/she will bring to a residency program and the profession of medicine.
There are three important components to a compelling letter of recommendation:
- Your assessment of the student’s strengths, preferably from working directly with him or her
- Your assessment of how the student will perform as a resident and future member of that specialty
- Anything that may distinguish this applicant from others
Guidelines for letter writing*
- Limit your letter to one or two pages.
- Explain how you know the applicant and your relationship. Do you know this applicant from an academic, clinical, or research setting? State how long have you known the applicant and how well.
- Tailor your letter. Give the reader a sense of the applicant’s potential as a future physician, as well as in other areas on which you can comment (eg, research, advocacy, their chosen specialty). Specific areas to comment on include: intellectual ability; analytical skills; attitude toward learning; communication skills; initiative, motivation, and persistence; and personal achievements.
- Be specific. Give specific examples of your observation of the student, or stories about your experiences with them that reflect his/her potential, professionalism, clinical acumen, interpersonal and leadership skills, passion for medicine, etc.
- Avoid personal remarks. Do not mention age, race/ethnicity, marital status, children, physical characteristics, or other personal attributes. If you believe this is an important factor in demonstrating the applicant’s performance and potential, ask the student if he or she wants that information included in the letter.
- Conclude with an overall recommendation. Indicate how well qualified the student is for residency and as a future physician. Comment on whether you would select this applicant for a residency program.
- Add that you welcome requests for information. Include your contact information if it is not already included on the letterhead.
- Carefully proofread your letter. Pay particular attention to the spelling of the applicant’s name. If you are using a template, ensure that you have changed the name throughout the letter.
Additional Instructions for Format
- Address the letter to “Dear Program Director”
- Include the student’s AAMC ID number somewhere on the letter
- Ensure you have spelled the name of the applicant correctly throughout the letter
- Sign the letter, either by signing a printed copy and scanning, or adding an image of your signature to the letter
- Put the letter on official letterhead. If you do not have letterhead, be sure to include your current contact information
- Save the letter as a PDF file
Submitting your LOR
Letter writers or their designees must upload letters in PDF format via the ERAS LoR Portal. The applicant should provide you with a Letter Request Form, which will include a unique identifying number for your letter, as well as instructions for uploading.
For questions related to LoR submission for UCSF medical students' residency applications, please contact Kristen Fitzhenry at 415-514-2059 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Guidelines adapted from Gross Davis B. Writing Letters of Recommendation. In: Tools for Teaching (1993). 1st Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1993:407-412.