The importance of submitting recommendation letters for medical school is something I can’t emphasize enough. Other than your MCAT and GPA scores, your recommendation letters for medical school are another determining factor in your acceptance to your dream med school.
That’s why in this post, we’ll be talking about the nature of recommendation letters for medical school and what you can do to get recommendation letters that would skyrocket your chances for getting in medical school!
How Important Are Recommendation Letters For Medical School?
If you’re in college or an adult student who is planning to get into medical school, you may have heard that your GPA and MCAT scores are the main factors that medical schools take into when looking at your application – especially in the case of MD schools.
While this is universally true for medical schools within the US, your grades and scores aren’t the only things they consider if they want to accept you or not.
See, these numerical values are not everything. The way you present yourself to your peers, neighbors, professors, and advisors are something you heavily have to take into account whilst you spend your time in college.
When presented properly and adequately – your weaknesses, strengths, attitude towards your academe, and overall personality – can be used to your advantage when crafting your recommendation letters for medical school.
These non-numerical and qualitative aspects about you – other than your GPA and MCAT scores – are equally taken into consideration by medical schools whether they would accept you or not.
Your recommendation letters allow the medical schools you apply for to know more about you from the eyes of the people around you. This gives them some kind of basis and idea for enabling them to distinguish applicants apart and pick out students who will fit and blend in well with the standards of these medical schools.
What Should Be In Recommendation Letters For Medical School?
Your recommendation letters for medical school are most likely going to be crafted and written by your professors, pre-med advisors, doctors you have shadowed, and anyone who knows you personally within the academic or pre-clinical setting.
Most of your teachers, especially if you major in the basic sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics, have been writing recommendation letters for their students for as long as they could remember. These professionals know how to write recommendation letters for aspiring medical practitioners in a sense that perfectly captures the strengths and weaknesses of their students.
However, what if the person you have asked to write a recommendation letter asks you what they should write? What are you ought to say in a situation like that?
You can actually find a ton of templates for recommendation letters you can find online that you could send to your letter writer. But of course, one can’t just copy these templates blindly because you want to accurately describe the positive aspects of the applicant, and not just advocate them in any possible way you can think of.
There are guidelines your letter writer should consider when writing your recommendation letter. If you’re being asked by your letter writer what they should write, simply send them the link to this article so that they could have an idea.
Guidelines For The Letter Writer When Asked To Write Recommendation Letters For Medical School
First off, there is only one thing you want to do for the student who has asked you to write their recommendation letters – and that is to write them a strong letter.
See, you can only write a medical school applicant a strong letter if you know him personally in an academic or clinical setting long enough to adequately and accurately describe his personality and strengths that would benefit his chances of getting into the medical schools he is applying for.
If you are not confident in the time you have spent with the student and don’t know him well enough, don’t keep his hopes up and just tell him that you’re not in the right position to write the letter. There’s nothing worse than having the student submit recommendation letters for medical school that are half-hearted.
Now, the structure of the recommendation letter should include 3 paragraphs, at the least. First, you should discuss in the introduction your relationship to the applicant and how long you have known him. This gives the medical schools the impression that you are indeed in the right position to have written that letter in the first place.
The second paragraph is where you should enlighten the reader concerning the strengths of the applicant and why he is the best fit for the school. Take into account the contributions the applicant could provide to the school’s imagery and diversity by describing his background, attributes, and experiences in a broad sense. Just make sure to consult him first if it would be okay for you to provide private information.
It’s important for you to let the applicant shine in a sense that doesn’t necessarily give off the feeling that you’re selling and advocating him. You want his strengths to show off in a calm but powerful manner and let the words speak for itself.
Avoid exaggerations and vague descriptions of the student’s abilities and strengths. Provide the reader with specific situations and examples wherein the applicant has exemplarily showcased his positive aspects in the professional setting.
It’s also possible for you to write about the weaknesses of the student, after all, you don’t want to give off the idea that you’re only advocating this applicant. However, make sure that this won’t weigh him down. Think of his weaknesses in a positive light, giving away the idea that the student is capable of change and improvement.
Don’t try to increase the length of the letter by enumerating every single thing the student has worked on. Rather, focus more on how the applicant has approached his courses, laboratories, rotations, and assignments. It’s ideal for you to only provide information on the student’s best work which you feel would best exhibit his intellect and sense of judgment as an aspiring medical practitioner.
You are not prohibited to include the GPA, grades, and MCAT scores of the applicant, but remember that the application documents already have this information. Mentioning these would look redundant unless you provide an explanation and interpretation of these quantitative values.
Finally, the conclusion of the letter should summarize the strength of your recommendation. Comparisons are the most helpful way to enable the admissions committee to visualize just how competent the applicant is and how he could possibly contribute to the overall intellectual value of the incoming class.
These comparisons could be in the form of statistics that generally describes the applicant as part of the percentage of the best students you have handled and worked within your entire career as a teacher. Also include reasons why you think so.
Lastly, don’t forget to provide them with your signature to authenticate the document.
How Long Should Recommendation Letters For Medical School Be?
The ideal length of recommendation letters for medical school would be something that doesn’t go over 2 pages.
A recommendation letter of 1 page would give off the impression that there is not much to write about the student because he’s not that interesting or you don’t know much about him in the first place, reducing the credibility of the letter and the rate of acceptance.
If it goes over the page count of 2, on the other hand, there’s a high possibility that this letter will just be less prioritized or worse, will never see the day of light ever again. See, the admission directors of the medical schools you apply for are most likely busy and already cramming his way through the pile of applications. You don’t really want to add up to this volume and risk your application being trashed.
2 pages are just enough for you to adequately describe the exceptional abilities of the applicant and provide exemplary situations wherein the student has showcased his strengths. Keep the letter at just the right length while enabling the reader to picture why this applicant is a great fit for the standards of the school.
How Many Recommendation Letters For Medical School Do You Need?
The number of recommendation letters you are required to submit depends on the admissions committee of the medical school. Some schools could only require 3 recommendation letters while others would squeeze out 5 recommendation letters from you.
This minimum count of 3 letters is usually composed of: 2 letters from science professors and 1 letter from a non-science professor. Science professors are those that majors in the basic sciences such as biology, chemistry, or physics while non-science professors are those that majors outside these basic sciences.
Additional recommendation letters could be from doctors you have shadowed, principal investigators, faculty advisors of clubs, or committee letters.
Committee letters are easy to be acquired if you’re a pre-med student since these are written by the pre-med advising office of your college or university. But some applicants – like non-science majors and alumni who are planning to enter medical school – may have a difficult time acquiring committee letters or may not even be eligible to request one.
If you’re not eligible to request a committee letter, other medical schools don’t even require recommendation letters which we’ll be going over in detail later on.
On the other hand, if you can get a committee letter and there are no reasons for you to not acquire one – get one by all means possible even if you’re not required to. It won’t damage your application if you don’t submit one, but it’s better for you to do so to give off the impression that you are indeed a strong candidate.
Most medical schools across the U.S. would just require 3 to 4 recommendation letters, and the volume of these schools go by a very large margin from schools who require less or more than 3 to 4. We can see this in the histogram below.
Source: Savvy Pre-Med
However, you’re not limited to the required number of recommendation letters you can send. In fact, some of the most competitive applicants can send up to 6 letters while there’s also a very tiny minority who sends up to 13 recommendation letters for medical school!
While I appreciate the enthusiasm of these students who go overboard with their recommendation letters, this could actually hurt their chances of acceptance even more. I would advise you to never send more than 5 letters. You don’t want to send every recommendation letter you can get your hands on, what you want is to send the best letters you can pick from the bunch.
Too little hurts more than too many recommendation letters for medical school. Get as many recommendation letters as you can, and only submit 5 of the strongest from those letters.
Remember that you want to increase the overall quality of your letters, adding weak letters for the sake of increasing the quantity would only decrease the overall quality of the set of letters.
Sample Recommendation Letters For Medical School From Doctor
Here’s a strong sample of recommendation letters for medical school that serves its purpose of faithfully showing off the personality, strengths, and abilities of the applicant in a calm but powerful manner written to fit 2 pages of paper.
Esteemed Residency Program
1234 University Way
Big City, Florida 54321
March 19, 2014
Dear Program Director,
It is my pleasure to write in support of the application of Mr. Ian Harris for your residency program. I have been an educator for decades with considerable experience with national organizations. I worked closely with Mr. Harris during his third-year clerkship as well as during his acting internship. As is evident from his CV, Mr. Harris has excelled throughout his career with many notable accomplishments which I will not repeat here. I will focus on my experiences with Mr. Harris, primarily those related to his clinical abilities and which demonstrate the qualities necessary for your residency: excellent knowledge, clinical skills, patient care, and leadership. I have observed Mr. Harris in both the inpatient and outpatient settings, taught him in class, and overseen his performance during his clerkship and acting internship.
In addition to considerable intellect and exemplary performances on standardized examinations, Mr. Harris is a warm, engaging individual who teaches others by example, is inclusive, and consistently exhibits curiosity and motivation to learn. He comes prepared for all types of learning situations, having researched the relevant topics so that he can provide quality care as well as participate actively in class and clinical supervision. Mr. Harris is articulate, well‐read, and able to utilize his knowledge effectively in the clinical setting. In addition to prioritizing his own learning, Mr. Harris considers the needs of others. On multiple occasions, he has arrived in the clinic with handouts on relevant clinical topics tailored for the rest of the medical team. He has been described as one of the best students to rotate on our service by our residents and several attending physicians. A colleague was so impressed by Mr. Harris’s knowledge and skills that she invited him to give a presentation during Grand Rounds. His presentation was outstanding – comprehensive in scope yet presented efficiently and effectively. On his own time, Mr. Harris designed a well‐conceived, thorough study protocol on risk factors for readmission within 30 days to our inpatient service.
In conclusion, I am happy to give Mr. Harris my highest recommendation for your residency program. In my experience, he is in the top 10% of all medical students with whom I have worked over the past 20 years. If you have any additional questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Joseph Attending, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine
Credits to: College of Medicine, University of Central Florida
Here are other sample recommendation letters for medical school that you can use as a reference:
- Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Press
- Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
- Shemmassian Academic Consulting
Medical Schools That Don’t Require Letters of Recommendation
Liberty University, College of Osteopathic Medicine
Liberty University is one of the few medical schools that offers DO degrees which combines state-of-the-art facilities and diverse research opportunities. If you plan on acquiring a DO degree and you’re ineligible to submit recommendation letters, Liberty University is one to consider.
Here are their matriculation requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree or higher. Or, you must have completed no less than 75% of the credits needed for a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university. Accreditation must be recognized by the United States Department of Education.
- 0 GPA and a 3.0 GPA in sciences. LUCOM has a preferred cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher and a preferred science GPA of 3.4 or higher. This reflects a greater probability for success in LUCOM and with the national board of examinations.
- 501 on the MCAT. No individual score of less than 123 will be considered for admissions. In very rare circumstances an exception may be made. LUCOM has a preferred MCAT standard of 504 or greater (cumulative) with no individual score of less than 125. Scores must be less than three years old. An average of the highest scores on multiple MCAT examinations will not be considered.
They also have undergraduate courses required for admission, listed below.
- Biochemistry or Cellular Biology: one semester (3-5 semester hours/6-8 quarter hours). Two semesters of biochemistry or completion of both courses is highly recommended.
- Biological Sciences: one year with laboratory (8-10 semester hours/12-15 quarter hours)
- English: two courses (6-10 semester hours/8-15 quarter hours)
- Inorganic Chemistry: one year with laboratory (8-10 semester hours/12-15 quarter hours)
- Organic Chemistry: one year with laboratory (8-10 semester hours/12-15 quarter hours)
- Physics: one semester with laboratory (4-5 semester hours/ 6-10 quarter hours), second semester is recommended
Indiana University, School of Medicine
Interested students can apply to the IU School of Medicine MD program through the AMCAS system. Listed below are the requirements for application to Indiana University’s medical school.
- MD applicants must have completed ninety (90) credit hours from an accredited U.S. or Canadian institution of higher education as well as the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
- Applicants should shadow a minimum of three physicians and participate in meaningful medical and service-learning activities before applying to Indiana University School of Medicine.
- Prerequisite coursework includes: (1) one year of General and Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Biology—minimum two-hour lab, (2) one semester of Biochemistry, (3) one Social Science, (4) AND one Behavioral Science course.
Note that they require you to shadow at least 3 physicians. Though they do not mention recommendation letters as an application requirement, shadowing a physician would also mean that you’re going to receive a recommendation letter either way.
Since you’re there, request the doctor to write you a recommendation letter for medical school. It’s still great to submit a letter while you’re at it.
Can You Reuse Recommendation Letters For Medical School?
It’s definitely allowed for you to send the same recommendation letters for all the medical schools you apply for. While it is also possible for you to send specific recommendation letters to a particular medical school, there is no need for this.
Doing so will only put your letter writer in a hard position because nobody really wants to write different recommendation letters. There’s just no purpose for it.
On the other hand, if you’re reapplying for the same medical school, you’re not also prohibited to reuse your letters of recommendation. Medical schools don’t archive these documents.
However, I still wouldn’t advise you to do so just because you’re not prohibited. Think about the quality of your recommendation letters and see if they’re still relevant to who you currently are.
You can be reapplying after a couple of years and may have improved on a few of your aspects. Your previous letters may be strong enough for your competency, abilities, and strengths at that time, but maybe not this time around.
You want to show how much you’ve improved from your previous application. Some medical schools actually appreciate students who have room for improvement and fill them up than students that are already perfectly polished.
We give credit to Savvy Pre-Med and Princeton Review which served as sources for this article on recommendation letters for medical school.
That’s a wrap on everything you need to know to get the best set of recommendation letters that would skyrocket your chances of getting accepted to the medical school of your dreams!
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