Letters of Recommendation

The purpose of this page is to assist students to know if they should ask me for a letter of recommendation, and how to go about it. Writing letters is a pleasure when I know the candidate well, and am confident that s/he will make an outstanding health professional. It truly is a burden, however, when I don’t know the candidate well, or I’m not so sure how s/he will perform. Here are some general guidelines:

1. Think about it well in advance. I will almost always state how long I have known the candidate. As a general rule, at least 6 months is probably a good idea (though it depends, of course, on how well I know you).

2. Let me know upfront and early that you will be asking for a letter. Be direct:  “Dr. Swanson, in about 9 months, I will be asking you for a letter of recommendation.”

3. I recommend that all students asking for a letter shadow me in the ER.  See here for details about shadowing me.

4. However, shadowing alone will not likely result in an outstanding letter (though it may result in a good letter). I also recommend that you work with me on some project (research or otherwise).

5. When the time comes that you need the letter, ask yourself: “Does Dr. Swanson know me well enough to write an outstanding letter?”. If you think that I do, then ask me the same question. I will be honest. Here are some attributes that I will be commenting on:

1. How long have you known the candidate? In what capacity? (School, employment, church, supervisor, etc.)
2. How do you compare this individual with his/her peers?
3. Career motivation and professional promise.
4. Academic performance and potential.
5. Personal attributes.
6. Greatest asset(s) as a candidate.
7. Area(s) that might need improvement.
8. Leadership.
9. Service.
10. Any other information that would be useful in evaluating the applicant.

6. Give me at least 2 weeks to write it.

7. Provide me with at least the following information: your CV (resume), your personal statement, and a personal narrative that includes all of the essential information that I should include in your letter (see the list above). Don’t be shy, and this isn’t the time to be humble.  The best personal narratives are in bullet points, written in the language of the letter itself.  I will use your narrative as a guide and reminder.

8. Provide me with as much logistical help as possible: stamped, addressed envelopes, clear instructions, etc.

9. Remind me by email a week after you request the letter, as well as a week before you want it sent.  Err on the side of reminding me too much.  I will try to send it before deadlines, etc. but I sometimes forget.  Don’t assume that I’ve sent it unless I have communicated that to you.

10. Most schools request that you waive your right to see the letter. I suggest that as well.

11.  Finally, I (almost) always email you the day that I send the letter.  If you haven’t received that email 2 days before you want/need it sent, contact me.

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