Recommendation Letters: How to Obtain Those Glowing Reviews

January 25, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Click here for 2021 shadowing opportunities

So you’ve got a perfect 4.0 GPA, a dazzling MCAT score, some hospital volunteering experience, and a compelling personal statement.  Your medical school applications are almost complete, except for one crucial component – complimentary letters of recommendation.  Here’s how to score the perfect letter:

Start identifying potential recommenders early but not too early.  During your freshman and sophomore years, you’re sure to meet a professor or two with who you have a true connection.  These relationships can yield an excellent letter of recommendation for medical school only if you maintain them throughout the course of your studies.  Love your Bio 101 professor? Be sure to take more classes with him in the future. If you rely on a recommendation from a professor who taught you once in a freshman chemistry class, a medical admissions committee might wonder why you did not seek recommendations from more recent professors who know your current standing and performance. 

Students with their mentor on the labour wardSeek out volunteer and internships experiences and get to know your supervisors well.  Medical schools want to know about your ability to work under pressure and as part of a team.  Your recommendation letter from a supervisor at an internship or volunteer experience will speak to that side of you not captured in an academic-oriented reference letter.  Your supervisor will be able to describe your work ethic, ability to work well with others, and task management skills.  If you specifically interned or volunteered in a medical setting, your supervisor will be able to explain to an admissions committee why you are a perfect fit for a career in medicine.

Make writing your letter of recommendation easy for your recommender.  Usually, the best recommenders are the busiest.  They are always on the go, involved in multiple activities, and have little time to dedicate to your most important goal of obtaining a stellar recommendation letter from them.  Make life easy for your recommender so s/he has no excuse not to assist you.  Schedule a time to meet with your potential recommender so that you have his/her complete attention when you make your request.  Asking your supervisor for a recommendation letter while she is on the run attending to a crisis shows poor planning and timing on your part and is not likely to yield an affirmative, thoughtful response.  When you’ve scheduled time to meet with your potential recommender, bring your resume with you as well as the list of medical schools to which you plan to apply.  Providing your recommender with a draft of your personal statement is also helpful.  Armed with your work and education experiences and your narrative of your future plans, your recommender will be able to craft a personalized letter that speaks to how outstanding you are and why you would be a perfect candidate for medical school

Heed this warning, however.  The people who love and support you the most are not going to be your best bet for obtaining a recommendation letter.  Often, it is prohibited for a family member to write a letter on your behalf.  It also shows a lack of maturity and ambition if you have failed to make the necessary professional connections to support your career development. So while your aunt may have many nice things to say about your wish to become a doctor, the professor who watched you struggle through a fetal pig dissection and succeed is going to be the better choice when you are seeking those prized letters of recommendation for your medical school applications. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.