Arrrgghhh! A couple of years ago, I wrote a thread on #recommendationletters. Somehow it got all mixed up and out of order.


I decided I'd reorganize & retweet it for any who are gearing up to get their letter game going--including me!

Y'all ready? Let's do this!
How do you feel when someone asks you to write them a letter of recommendation for residency or fellowship?

Do you feel:


Now that I have a good approach, I actually love writing letters. Crazy, I know!
Since many are in the throes of letters (or just finished) thought I’d share my approach. I welcome your insights, too!

Cool? Cool.

Let’s 1st assume that the person you’ve agreed to recommend, is 1 you CAN recommend. If you can’t? You owe it to them to be honest.

But how?
Them: “Do you think you can write a strong letter of recommendation for me?”
You: “I’m concerned that our time together didn't afford me the chance to see you at your best. May I support you in a different way?”

Hopefully, you gave tons of feedback so this isn’t a shock.
Pro-tip: Take out the guessing by letting learners know that you’d be willing to write a letter when you give end-of-rotation evaluation. It spares everyone cryptic meeting requests and saves time.

Now for the letter.

I start by sending them some questions to answer.

For starters:

* WHAT are my strongest attributes? What am I MOST proud of about myself?
* WHAT have I done that could set me apart from other applicants? What is my unique strength?
* HOW would my peers describe me? What makes me a good teammate?

But wait. There’s more. . .
The next is the pièce de résistance:

* WHAT would I want to MAKE SURE programs knew that I have done?
* WHAT hardships (if you are willing to share) might cause you to be misunderstood? (optional)
* HOW can I best advocate for you in this letter?

Remember: We're advocates.
I also ask to see their CV AND their #personalstatement. Why? Because sometimes the cool things that they couldn’t fit into the PS or that are buried in the CV can get slipped in by me in my letter.

*Completed an Ironman?
*Raised $20K for an urban garden?

Yooo! I got you.👊🏾
I can also be WAY more effusive about you than YOU can in your personal statement. Sure can.


Who are YOU to be writing this letter? I like to say that in my 1st paragraph. Work with nearly every student in your role? Been at this for 30 years?

Why not share that?
In what capacity do you know the learner? Be specific.

What did you see? Share what will attest to their potential in their next step. What did you see? Be specific and personal.

Does it take longer to do this? Yes.
Does it make a difference? Fo sho.

How does this learner compare to who you’ve seen?
Make a clear statement of recommendation.
Bring it home, man.

Read it again. If the letter could not be changed to support a different person? It’s personal enough. If you can change names and pronouns and reuse?

Here’s my cheat sheet:

P1: Who am I & how I know you
P2: Character traits observed with supporting specific example
P3: Peer descriptions and what you’re proud of
P4: How you compare to others, +/- clarity on speed bumps
P5: Statement of rec, bring it on home

Easy, right?
I think of a letter of recommendation as an opportunity to be a piece of someone’s dream.

Of course, learners vary greatly and it isn’t always easy. But the older I get in #MedEd, the more I want to be a good steward of my influence. And that starts with intention.

My caveat is that I’m not a large program PD or a Chair writing 40 letters. But as one who writes about 8 – 10 annually & doesn’t want them to be cookie cutter, this has helped me a ton.

But best of all this happens—and reminds you that it was worth it.


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