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Letters of Recommendation: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When should I start asking for letters of recommendation?
A. You should give the faculty who are writing your letters of recommendation 4 weeks to prepare your letters. For October letters, you may want to make the request on the last day of the elective, SubI, and let the faculty member know it should be in the Dean's Office by app. November 15th.
Q. How many letters of recommendation should I ask for?
A. Three letters of recommendation are required and no more than four are allowed. Often, one of the three should be from the Department Chair in your specialty. If you are applying for both an advanced specialty and a preliminary year you may send some of the letters for your advanced specialty to your preliminary programs, with at least one letter from a Medicine faculty member.
Q. What information do letter writers need in order to write a letter for residency?
A. ERAS Cover Sheet, Instructions for San Francisco Match Letters of Recommendation, AAMC identification number
Q. Who makes a good letter of recommendation writer for the residency application?
A. The best letter writers are those faculty members who know you best and can strongly support your application. Clinical letters are preferred in residency applications. Research letters can sometimes be used as supplemental letters but not as primary letters, unless you're applying to residency programs that have a research track. Letters should come from attending physicians – not residents. If the faculty member did not offer to write the letter, you should ask if they feel comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation.
Q. What information should letters of recommendation include?
The letter should support your application for residency and could include: a description of your patient management skills, ability to work as a member of the health care team, demeanor with patients, potential for the field, etc… What kind of resident will you be?
Q. How do I get a Chairman's Letter if he doesn't know me?
A. Some programs will specifically indicate that one of your 3 required letters should be from the Chair of the Department. Most chairs will want to meet with you before writing a letter and will want you to bring a student copy of your transcript, your CV and a draft of your personal statement. It is best to contact the secretary in the department to determine (1) if the Chairman sends a letter, and (2) what process has been established for completing this process.
Q. When should all my letters be in?
A. Letters need to be in by residency program deadlines—this varies by discipline and by program. Students should look up program deadlines on individual program websites. Most are around November 15th . Letters will be scanned by the Dean’s Office as soon they are submitted by faculty. However, in ERAS, letters must be assigned by the student to each program.
Q. Where should my letters of recommendation for residency be sent?
A. Letters of recommendation to be scanned into ERAS MUST be accompanied by the ERAS LOR cover sheet. All instructions for the faculty member to follow are on that cover sheet. Once the College of Medicine Dean's Office receives the letter with the cover sheet, the staff will scan it into the ERAS system with your information.
Q. How do I indicate which of my letters of recommendation for residency get assigned to which programs?
A. When you begin to select which programs to apply to in ERAS, you must eventually assign which letters of recommendation you want sent to each program. This does not have to be completed at the time you initially submit your ERAS in early September; you may add additional letters later, as you identify who will be writing letters on your behalf.
If you are applying to two specialties, you need to be very careful in your assignment of letters to be sure the right letters go to the right programs. It is strongly advised if you ask one faculty member to write you two different letters of recommendation based on the two specialties you are applying to, that you notify the Dean's Office so they can take extra care in how they label the letters when they upload them into ERAS. We actually recommend asking the letter writer to write a general letter, not specialty specific, in the cases you are applying to two specialties. You may send a specialty specific letter to support preliminary position applications - they know you'll be moving on after a year to your desired specialty.