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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation are required for all the programs to which you apply. ERAS will limit individual program LoRs to (4) four. LoRs carry significant weight since they should have been written by those who have had a period of direct observation and meaningful contact with you. Note: the MSPE (Dean’s Letter) does not count toward LoRs. 

What makes a great Letter of Recommendation?

Great LoRs support your overall residency application by demonstrating your performance as a medical student and potential as a future physician. The recommender will typically state how they know you, summarize your distinct and applicable qualities as a medical student, evaluate your performance in the area in which they supervised you, and discuss why you would make a great resident in the specialty of your choice. 

Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Who to Ask

LoRs should come from attending physicians that you’ve worked with in clerkships or other clinical settings. Because you will likely choose to waive your right to view your letters, choosing wisely is important. Recommendations from physicians in your chosen specialty may carry a lot of weight in most cases, but someone who knows you well in another specialty may better serve your overall application than someone who doesn’t know you as well in your chosen specialty. When considering a qualified letter writer outside of your specialty, it may be wise to consider the similarity of their field compared to that which you are applying (e.g., general surgery relates more to urology than pediatrics). Note that LoRs from non-faculty (e.g., a physician you shadowed in the community) carry little to no weight and will likely not support your overall application.

It is wise to review the websites of programs to which you plan to apply. Their pages should have information on their letter requirements, preferences, and what writer specialties carry the most weight. Lastly, many fields are beginning to require standardized letter formats, be sure to check with your specialty’s national association for guidance regarding the field’s LoR norms.

When to Ask

Remember that attendings are very busy and hold various, overlapping commitments. Begin to think about who you might be able to request a LoR from beginning in your third year as you go through clerkships. You may consider asking an attending near the end of a particular clerkship, though know that this may require you to keep this person up-to-date on your medical school journey if your request comes far before the ERAS deadline. If you know the specialty you will be applying to at the beginning of a clerkship, you may choose to let the attending know of your intent early on and follow up at the end of your rotation with a formal request. However, you can make the request at any time leading up to the ERAS application timeline.

When you do have recommenders identified, be sure to allow these attendings sufficient time to prepare and write your letter, should they agree to. Ask for letters no later than one month prior to the ERAS deadline.

How to Ask

It’s advisable to request LoRs in person, and you may consider scheduling a meeting with the attending to discuss your motivation for your chosen specialty and why their recommendation would be invaluable to your application. If you know the attending well and/or are currently in a clerkship rotation with them, you may ask for a meeting in person. However, if you don’t see this individual regularly, you can request a meeting via email. Be prepared to provide your updated CV and personal statement. If you are feeling nervous, try and realize that, though this is unique and intimidating for you, this is a yearly routine for many attending physicians and they often consider this to be a part of their job.

Sample Email Requesting a Meeting

General Tips

  • Include a clear subject line. (e.g., “Meeting Request for Letter of Recommendation for Residency Application”)
  • Be brief and succinct, stating your request for a meeting to discuss your application
  • Use complete sentences and pay attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Utilize recipient’s formal title (e.g., Dr. Jane Doe or Dr. Doe)
  • Send all communication from your OUHSC email address
  • Include your signature block with contact information, including email and telephone
  • Attach your CV and personal statement

An email requesting a meeting may look similar to the following, though your relationship with the writer should ultimately guide how you make the request:

Dear Dr. ____,

I am applying to medical residences this fall in [specialty], and I am reaching out to schedule a meeting to discuss my goals and progress thus far in medical school. I enjoyed my rotation with you in [date], specifically [key takeaway from your experience]. This rotation really helped me in deciding to practice [specialty] in my career. Since our last encounter, [any pertinent updates from your professional/academic training].

As I reflect on physicians who might be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me for residency programs, I would consider your perspective invaluable. I’m happy to meet with you in person or via phone at your convenience. I’ll be submitting applications through ERAS in September.

Thank you for your consideration.


First Lastname, MS4

Enclosure: CV, personal statement

During the Meeting

Your recommender should be aware that you’re requesting a LoR based on your meeting request or prior verbal conversation.  Be prepared to discuss your intended specialty and why this individual’s recommendation would support your application. You should ask the attending if they would be able to write a strong letter for you, because the attending will be able to honestly tell you if they cannot. At this point, you may ask for any additional feedback on your application or application materials and thank them for their time. Ensure you have additional potential recommenders that you can reach out to.

Once the attending agrees to write your LoR, provide them with the ERAS LoR requirements document, your application materials, your Step 1 and Step 2 scores (if available), your medical school transcript, and any other information they might request from you.

Note: Be prepared to follow to follow up semi-regularly, especially no later than 2 (two) weeks prior to the ERAS deadline if your LoR is still not submitted.

Thank You Notes

As a professional courtesy, you should consider writing a thank you note to your recommenders for their time and guidance. You may also choose to write your thank you note after Match Day and inform them of your match location.