The 5 “W”‘s of Medical School Recommendation Letters

The who, what, when, why, and how of med school letters of recommendation.

Medical School Recommend Letter

In addition to the personal statement, medical school recommendation letters can really help to highlight an otherwise unexceptional pre-medical student. First, a letter of recommendation will usually give the medical school admissions committees an indication of your impression on others, which includes your character and passion for medicine. Letters are submitted in a confidential manner to most medical schools, which means that you will not have the ability to see what the writer has stated about you. Second, letters from physicians can indicate to medical schools how well you will do if offered admission.


Most applicants should start thinking about the importance of recommendation letters towards the beginning of their undergraduate education. Premedical advisors and science professors are prime candidates to become letter writers. As a result, you may want to keep this in mind while you are enrolled. The professors should be able to provide an objective assessment of your performance in class. Their assessment may include factors such as how well you work with others, leadership capabilities, written and oral expression, motivation, and maturity.

Why to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

It is pretty simple as to why you should ask a physician for a medical school recommendation letter. First, almost every medical school in the U.S. requires that applicants to medical school have at least one recommendation letter, preferably from a physician. Many schools only require letters from the pre-medical committee of the applicant’s undergraduate institution. Either way, having letters of recommendation are a pretty standard requirement for medical school in the United States.

Who to Ask for a Recommendation

We recommend requesting at least three or four recommendation letters. Of the people you asked to write you a letter of recommendation for medical school, at least one of them should be a physician. Hence, the reason why shadowing a physician may provide you with the ability of getting a letter of recommendation from a physician. The physician could be a doctor that was your mentor or a doctor with whom you have spent some time with in a clinical environment. If would be best if you are able to find a physician who is an alumnus of one of the medical schools to which you are applying.

You should also have a letter of recommendation written by your institution’s pre-medical committee. If your school does not have a pre-medical committee, you should be able to receive a letter of recommendation from a science professor who knows you well.

You should also have someone write you a personal letter of recommendation. Examples of this include the minister at the church you attended, a mentor/advisor, an elder who knows you well, etc. This purpose for this is that physicians are expected to be professionals upholding exemplary conduct. Having someone such as this may be able to provide the medical school admissions committees with insight into your character and integrity that cannot be found elsewhere on your application.



How to Ask for a Recommendation

Ideally, you should have a few items available for those from who you wish to request a letter of recommendation.

  • A resume/CV. View a sample resume for students.
  • A letter requesting a recommendation in addition to the reasons you want to attend medical school.
  • The mailing address of where the letters should be sent if by mail.
  • The web address or email address of where the letters should be sent if they should be sent digitally.
  • The deadline by which you need the letter of recommendation submitted.
  • Any additional data that you wish to be included in you letter of recommendation.

Submit these documents to the person you want to request write you a letter of recommendation. Some letter writers may ask that you provide them with more information about you to make it easier to write a letter. If they reply to you saying that they are able to write one for you, be sure to follow up with a thank you note.

When to Ask for a Recommendation

Give the person writing the letter ample time to submit a letter of recommendation. It’s recommended that your request for a recommendation be given to a person at least 1-2 months in advance. This will give them an opportunity to reflect and really put forth as much effort as possible when preparing your letter. Furthermore, some professors and physicians may not agree to writing a letter because of short notice.

Writing letters of recommendation can be very difficult, time consuming, and somewhat stressful depending on the situation. More than likely, the person writing your letter wants to help you as much as they can, so do the best to make it easier for them.

What to Ask for in a Recommendation

Most importantly, do not simply ask for a letter of recommendation. Be sure to include words like “strong” or “positive” in your request. Keep in mind that a negative or mediocre letter will not offer your medical school application much benefit. In fact, letters of recommendation that lack fervor or sincerity may be an indicator of a substandard pre-med student.

If your letter writer asks you what they should include, be sure to have an appropriate answer. Letters should focus on the topic of why they think you would be a suitable candidate for medical school as well as some specific examples that lead them to believe so.

See also: Sample Medical School Recommendation Letter Request.

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