There are few things related to your residency application that will be as important in the long run as your letters of recommendation. Yes, your degree and the technicalities as far as what you learned while you were gaining your clinical experience are definitely huge parts of the process. How your actual interview goes is also incredibly important.
However, only your letters of recommendation represent your chance to shine as far as how you appear in the eyes of other people. They’re reflective of your ability as a physician as evaluated by someone in a respected position of authority. Ideally they have made a name for themselves in their chosen specialty so therefore will be able to offer an educated opinion as to how you’d do as a practitioner of that specialty. This being the case, letters of recommendation count for a lot in the eyes of your future residency program director.
The Importance of Asking the Right People to Write Your Letters
While any letter of recommendation that speaks highly of your abilities as a physician or as a person will be an asset when it comes to getting your desired residency, it’s important to understand how much impact choosing the right person can really have. If it’s possible to choose a nationally recognized figure who is part of the same specialty you’re going into, then it’s an excellent idea to do so. It also helps to choose people who are well known within staff circles at the institution you’re planning on applying to.
You will want to make it a point to approach individuals who really see you as a star and will able to provide a glowing report that shows you in your best light. Make sure it is someone with whom you have worked personally in a hands-on capacity, as a professional’s assessment of your hands-on expertise in particular will count for a lot.
Letters of recommendation should come from physicians, chairmen, faculty members, ICM instructors, and other such individuals. They should never come from family members, friends, patients, clergymen, neighbors, or any other such individuals.
On the Number of Letters Needed
Definitely don’t just stop at one letter of recommendation. In fact, career experts consider the ideal number of recommendation letters for a residency applicant to be three. As many of these as possible should be from individuals who are part of your desired specialty, as it shows a history of deep interest in a given area.
You should also try to make sure that at least one of your letters can be considered a “high impact” letter or, at the very least, a semi-high impact letter as far as the “wow” factor behind it. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the true purpose of a recommendation letter is to shed some light on who an applicant is from a personal standpoint. If it comes down to a choice between a polite, impersonal letter from a nationally known heavy-hitter in your specialty and a physician with whom you’ve worked more closely who knows you well, choose the person who knows you better and can talk about you in a more personal capacity.