Chapter 2: Letters of Recommendation

How To Achieve Your Dream Residency: The Future Surgeon’s Guide to 4th Year

You are required to have 3 letters and allowed up to 4 (most applicants submit 4). There are no “rules” about who should write your letters, but everyone should have a chair letter. Unlike your other writers, your chair is not expected to have worked with you directly. If they do not know you well, meet with them to introduce yourself. Bring your CV and personal statement and approach this as an interview. Regarding your other letter writers — be aware that name recognition counts. This sounds unfair, but the people reading your letters don’t know how to interpret a flattering letter from an unfamiliar name. For the same reason surgeons are preferable to non-surgeons. But, you can use one non-surgeon if you choose. Otherwise, consider one letter from your sub-internship or away rotation, one from your 3rd year clerkship, and one wildcard (your PI, a professor emeritus, or a repeat from the group above).

It is best to approach your letter writers early — ideally, immediately after you have worked with them. You don’t need it written immediately, but the advanced notice makes them more likely to remember you. Advise them that you’ll follow up in the summer, and then submit the formal request in June/July. Provide them your CV and personal statement so that they can personalize the letter. Be sure to send thank you notes after, or as a polite way to check in if they are delayed in submitting.