Hey everyone, I decided to do a post on letters of recommendations (LORs) because it is definitely needed. There will be two parts: who to ask and how to ask, so read until the end. Be on the lookout for posts about writing a personal statement and how to deal with secondary applications 😊.
AMCAS can take three different letter types but I’m going to mention individual letters because that letter type is the one that I have used for my application and that I am most familiar with.
WHO TO ASK
In the last post I mentioned that I would recommend having LORs from these types of people:
- Two science teachers
- A non-science teacher
- A physician
- A Community Leader, A Student Organization Advisor, someone who can speak on your leadership
- Principal Investigator for your Research
- Your employer for a specific job. Health- related or non-health related (I used my supervisor in the hospital lab I worked in and my boss as a Teacher’s Assistant)
- Two science teachers
For most if not all medical schools, it’s generally required to have letters from two science teachers. This is because medicine is a science and the committee want someone to talk about how well you did in the course and how engaged you were in it. For this, ask teachers who you regularly went to office hours for or interacted with. It’s hard to write a letter for someone if you never had a conversation with them so to future applicants make sure you try to engage with your professors. I know with Covid it will make it difficult but Zoom office hours are not too terrible and you can still talk to your professors. It would be best to also be from a class you did well in (for me it was a B or higher). In my case, I asked my general chemistry teacher and my biochemistry teacher.
- A non-science teacher
This can be any non-science teacher who can attest to your personality and work ethic as a student. Some medical schools do not require this, but it does not hurt to have one. Make sure you did well in the class and interacted with the professor. For me, it was not that hard to find a non-science one because I have a minor in French and just chose one of my French professors. In fact, I think I was more connected with my French professors than my science professors 😂. Just choose any teacher that is non-science who you have a great connection with, and you should be good!
- A physician
This LOR is not necessary like the first two, but it can truly help. I shadowed three physicians during undergrad but only really connected with one. It’s nice to have a physician write you a letter because it lets the admin committee know that you understand a little bit about the role of a physician (and I say a little bit because there is always so much to learn about this profession). If you did not get shadowing experience, I am pretty sure you will be fine, but it sure gives you a leg up when you compare to other applicants.
- A community leader, Advisor, etc
This LOR would be really helpful to have as well. This is a letter coming from someone who you worked with for community service, a student org advisor or someone who can attest to your leadership. For me, I asked the director of a downtown church who I helped with packing lunches for homeless individuals. In my opinion, this letter shows that you have someone who can talk about your involvement with community service, which is apart of the 15 core competencies of medicine. If you cannot get that then try having a Student Org Advisor write you one if you are in a leadership position. They can talk about your relationship with them and your role as a leader. These obviously are not necessary but LORs like these can only help you out.
- PI for Research
This one is super important. Medical schools love seeing applicants with Research. Although I have had a lot of horror stories with the research projects I was involved with (lookout for a series on that later on), I was able to secure a letter from a pretty cool PI. I would place getting this letter almost as significant as the science teachers one. If you did not do research, that’s ok, I know some students who got into medical school without doing it. But be sure to answer why you did not do it and what you have done instead. If you have done research, then please ask your PI for a letter. Make sure to ask them to write a strong letter and try to have conversations and interact with them before doing so.
- Employer (Healthcare or non-Healthcare)
This one is pretty great as well. Having an employer talk about your work ethic and skills will only exemplify your application in my opinion. I remember hearing from someone on adcom mention this applicants LOR from his boss at a local marketplace. It definitely did not have anything to do with healthcare, but the way this boss talked about his employee in the LOR is something that stuck with this adcom member. Someone emailed me the other day asking if would be good to have their boss from their tutoring center write them a LOR and I said of course!!! Not everything in your application has to be about science, and adcom knows that. I asked my supervisor from the lab I work at for a LOR and my employer from my teacher’s assistant job.
So overall, I had eight letters which is a lot for some, but perfect for me. For the AACOMAS (the DO application), an adcom member told me that they actually prefer less letters, like five total, because they said having too much means that the applicant just wants people to talk good about them. So, for AMCAS have at most 8 and for AACOMAS have at most 5. For AACOMAS, I used the 3 teacher LORs, the physician one, and the community service one, but do as you please with that one.
GETTING THE LETTER
So, now that you know who to ask, how do you go about getting it? Here’s a sample email that I have used, and you are more than welcome to use it when drafting yours.
After looking at this email, I realized I could have improved the way I asked for the LOR. Do not use contractions (change can’t to can not), ask the question (actually say, could you write me a letter of recommendation? instead of the way I worded it) and be more professional than I was. Also, make sure to ask for your letters of recommendations early. I asked for mine in late February, but you will be fine if you ask around April. This is because your letters writers are busy people and they will most likely push it in the back burner. Send them a link on the guidelines of the LOR from AMCAS: https://www.aamc.org/system/files?file=2019-09/lettersguidelinesbrochure.pdf
You can also you this link: https://eforms.com/recommendation-letter/medical/
This is to make sure they understand how to write the letter and what it requires. It would also be best to send in your personal statement (try to have it completed) and your resume/CV.
In your email also ask them to write you a strong letter of recommendation. This is a medical school application so the better your letters are, the more you as an applicant will shine to those reading the letters. Here’s a link from Diverse Medicine on how to write a strong letter: https://www.diversemedicine.com/how-to-request-a-rec-letter/
Once they complete the letter have them upload it through AMCAS Letter Writer or even better, Interfolio Dossier. For Interfolio, you can keep your letters there for a while and even use them for other application sites like AACOMAS. Then follow the instructions on Interfolio and on AMCAS to upload the letter (you have to write in your letter writer’s contact information on AMCAS and use a code to transfer the letter from Interfolio Dossier to AMCAS).
Lastly, AMCAS should receive your LORs by the time you get your secondaries so definitely keep reaching out to your letter writers from time to time until they submit it!
And that’s it! I hope you all enjoyed this long post and found great benefit to it. Let me know if you have any questions by commenting below or contacting me.