By Monica L. Miller, PharmD, MS
From the discussions I have had with student pharmacists, it seems that letters of recommendation are often overlooked, or are considered only at the later stages of the application process. There is recent literature related to residency applications in particular that highlights the importance of these documents. Many programs place a very high value on them. While you will not personally be in charge of this particular application piece, there is much you can do now to ensure those letters of recommendation are written favorably and complement your application.
I will discuss how to get them, when to ask for them, and how to thank your writers.
How to get the highest recommendation
According to cambridge.org, a letter of recommendation is defined as “a letter describing someone’s qualities and abilities written by someone who has worked with them previously, and sent to a possible new employer.” When you ask someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, they will speak to various pharmacy skills, personal attributes and qualities, clinical knowledge, critical thinking, and work habits, among other things. They will draw upon their experience working with you in the classroom, through internships, professional organizations, or precepting to make these assessments. Your letter writers typically have vested in your professional growth.
To ensure you are receiving the highest recommendation, there are a few things to consider now.
How to secure a letter:
- Work hard, build your skills, and have a positive attitude.
- Get to know your faculty, preceptors, and other pharmacists you work with, and make time to talk with people and share your goals with them.
- Stay professional in your interactions with others.
- Build your network.
Who to select:
- Someone who knows you and with whom you have built a relationship, such as a preceptor, work manager, organization mentor, or professional mentor. Avoid people with whom you have had limited, non-meaningful interactions (ex: faculty you have only seen in a didactic lecture).
- Someone who can write you a positive, honest letter of recommendation that can address your personality and professional strengths, as well as areas you want to develop during a residency.
- Someone who meets the criteria outlined by the residency program. Some programs will request letters from specific people/positions (e.g., preceptor, supervisor, faculty member).
What you can do to help the letter writer:
- Talk with your recommenders. For example, discuss your professional goals, why you are pursuing a residency, what you like about programs you apply to, and your professional strengths. Let them get to know you better so they can write a letter that showcases you in depth.
- Share your CV with them so they can see your professional accomplishments outside of what they have personally witnessed.
- Give them plenty of time. Letters of recommendation should not be rushed. This person is doing you a kindness and supporting your professional growth. To the best of your ability, ensure they know the deadline for submission weeks in advance.
- Send an electronic portfolio highlighting due dates, specific criteria the residency program has related to letters of recommendation, specific things you like about the individual program, name of program and residency director, and the professional qualities you are highlighting within your application.
Say “thank you”
After you have secured your position, make sure you reach out and say “thank you.” Your letter writers are supporting your professional journey. They spend time writing the letters and are also staking their reputation on your skillset. A hand-written thank you is appropriate. Tell them what position you have secured and where you will be going for training. This shows a high level of respect for the relationship you have developed with that person.
No matter what your professional experience is right now, you should be in the process of securing a letter of recommendation if you are doing your best at your rotation, research, internship, or other experience you’re having this summer.
If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.