Help Me Help You: How to Request a Letter of Recommendation

Authors: Matthew R. Klein, MD, MPH, Aaron R. Quarles, MD, MPP, Abra L. Fant, MD, MS


Letters of recommendation (LORs) are an essential component of a career in medicine. The process for obtaining certain letters, particularly those associated with scheduled periods of professional transition, often is governed by established institutional or specialty norms. The process of requesting LORs in more common scenarios—local or national awards, committee assignments, and leadership positions—many times is less clearly defined, however. Despite the important role that LORs play in professional development, the published literature on how to solicit a recommendation is limited, creating challenges for both those requesting LORs (“applicants”) and the letter writers. This perspective piece offers insight on how to best identify and communicate with a potential writer. These suggestions are derived from the limited relevant literature and from the authors’ experience both with requesting letters themselves and writing letters as leaders in undergraduate and graduate medical education. The goal is to reduce ambiguity for applicants and ensure that writers receive the information necessary to provide an informed and effective recommendation.


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