Med School Done Right: The Letter of Recommendation Series – How I Got My Letters

letterBy Luke Murray

This post is part of a series called “Med School Done Right,” which will look at not just succeeding in medical school in the narrow terms of “getting good grades,” but at shaping the kind of experiences you want to have during these (usually) four very important years of your life.
Most residencies require three letters of recommendation, allow no more than four, and restrict uploading to ERAS to fewer than five.

When I was collecting letters, I figured I’d rather have more options than fewer, so I went ahead and got five letters of recommendation. These are the people I asked and how I chose them.

Note: I was applying to only family medicine programs.

  • Pathology professor – I thought my pathology professor was a wonderful teacher and a genuine, caring person. I just went into his office and said, “Hi, I’m Luke. I really enjoy your lectures.” This drop-by genuine compliment turned into a pleasant conversation and ended with an invitation to stop by and update him on what was going on in my life. Because one of my favorite things about this professor is how he seemed to truly care for everyone, myself included, I decided to take him up on his offer. When I did well or poorly on a test, when I had ideas about medical education, even when I fell in love for the first time, he was always available and willing to both listen and share. I didn’t do this often, maybe 2-3 times per semester, but over time, my visits amounted to a relationship of substance.
  • Peds attending – I knew my peds attending through my process improvement at my school’s hospital before starting medical school. Every day, after wards, we reviewed what we did well that day and how we could do better the next day. I respected the way he taught and practiced medicine and the way he took legitimately critical feedback from his students. He understood my interest in the ‘system-based’ view of healthcare delivery and this, again, made for conversations of substance outside of the wards, as well as a sense of mutual respect.
  • Former chair of family medicine – I was talking to a friend about my interest in international medicine and he suggested I meet this person, so I asked for an introductory email and followed up. I made sure to sit down with this professor every few months to update him, and it of course helped that I was actually planning on studying abroad during my fourth year as well.
  • Family med attending/assistant residency director – This the family medicine attending whose company I enjoyed the most and whom I felt practiced in a manner I most wanted to emulate: with respect, clarity, efficiency, and professionalism. I was very clear about sharing my future professional plans with him, including my interest in the business side of medicine and international medicine, and he was extremely receptive and supportive of my aspirations.
  • Residency selection director at an away rotation – Starting the summer before 4th year, I met the residency selection director of my number-one program at a conference and consistently reached out to him from then on. I did an away rotation at his hospital, and we ended up sharing a mutual interest in live theatre. He also happened to be one of the more fun people I worked with in all of medical school, so I felt very good about asking for a letter, as I would have gladly written one for him.

These are the people from whom I asked for, and received, letters, and why I asked. What method did you use to gather letters?

Want to read more posts about hos to do med school “right?” Check out Luke’s article series here, or read the next article in the series, Who to Ask and How to Ask (Family Medicine).


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