Letters of Recommendation - Class of 2018

Message sent to the Class of 2018 by Dean Mellman (6.8.17)

Dear Class of 2018,

The powerpoint from the class meeting last night on the residency application has been uploaded to the P&S career advising site. The recording will be available next week on the site. The personal statement examples that were read are available to be viewed in a folder at our front desk in VEC 1103.

The information below about letters was covered in the meeting, and I am highlighting it in this email as well.

If you haven’t already started, now is a good time to start considering who you will ask for your letters of recommendation (LOR) for residency. This also applies to students who are taking the next year off, as you may ask for letters before your year off when you are fresh in the minds of faculty.

Please note that when we met for your MSPE and career planning, I wrote on the sheet I gave you suggestions for letters of recommendation for the specialties you were considering then.

Please do not ask for letters that you will not be using. If you are unsure what you are applying in, hold off on asking for letters until you are sure what you need. It takes substantial time and effort to write a good letter of recommendation, and so you should not ask faculty to undertake this unless you will really use it. You still have plenty of time to decide-at least until July or August. The advisory deans and residency advisors are also available to help you make these decisions.

In the past, our office did not screen letters other than making sure they were on letterhead and signed. Beginning in 2015, ERAS is requiring the letter writer to upload the letter directly and is not allowing them to go to or be seen by the student affairs office.

Number and type of letters
As I explained in an email in March and our class meeting May 2, most programs want 3-4 letters for your residency application. The actual amount requested is listed on the program’s website. You may have more than 3 LOR’s and send select letters to select programs. It is expected that MD/PhD students or those doing a full year off for research will have a letter from their PI, which sometimes means having 4 letters. A letter from your scholarly project mentor can give a good description of your initiative, follow through, critical thinking, problem solving and person qualities and be helpful, assuming your mentor knows you. Otherwise programs want letters from your clinical work. Usually 2 of the clinical letters come from the specialty to which you will apply and the rest from another field, such as medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, etc. Occasionally students have all 3 from their planned specialty, particularly for applications to the surgical subspecialties. Students often have 1 or 2 of the 3 letters from an attending they worked with on their subinternship or an elective early in D&I, usually no later than August. You may use a letter for an advanced residency program (PGY2 entry) to apply for a PGY1 year in Medicine or Surgery.

The strongest letters of recommendation (aside from research or SP letter) usually come from the individuals who have worked directly with you clinically and know you best.

The MSPE does NOT count as one of your letters of recommendation.

Chair’s letter
The following specialties require a Chair’s Letter:
Medicine or preliminary medicine-Dr. Katherine Nickerson
Categorical General Surgery (not preliminary surgery)- Dr. Craig Smith
Surgical subspecialties-chair of the specialty
OBGYN-Dr. Mary D’Alton
A few pediatrics programs require a chair’s letter, which comes from Dr. Lawrence Stanberry.

Timeline for getting letters
Residency programs expect to see letters by October 1 when the MSPE is available to them. Letters from September electives may be feasible if the letter writer will get their letter in by the end of September so they will be available Oct 1. Otherwise September could be a bit risky if your letter writer takes longer. Your letter writers typically need at least one month's notice, so you should ask them by August.

 If you need a letter from a September elective, you should ask the attending towards the middle of September and let the attending know they should upload it by September 29.

If you are taking a year off and want to ask a faculty member for a letter now, you can arrange through Joy Bailey jb13@cumc.columbia.edu to have an ERAS account where they can upload the letter.

Requesting a letter
You can email or meet with a faculty member to ask for a letter. You might write or say, “I am applying for residency in (specialty) and am hoping you would be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me. I would be happy to email you my cv and/or meet with you to discuss this further. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you.”

If they don’t respond within 2 weeks, send it again. If they still don’t respond, assume they are not interested and move on to someone else.

Some faculty members will request a draft of your personal statement before writing their letter. Don’t delay in asking them because of that.

In ERAS, there is a Letter Request Form that is generated once you go into MyERAS and designate your letter writers. You will generate a Letter Request Form (LRF) for each LoR you are requesting and you will provide the relevant author with the form.

The Letter Request Form in ERAS asks you to waive (which we recommend) or not waive your right to view a letter of recommendation you request. Programs might interpret you not waiving it as you not trusting what the letter writer will write, or not being very trusting of others in general.

Guidelines for letter writers
Guidelines for letter writers are available on our P&S Career Advising site in Courseworks.

Letter writers must upload their letter directly to ERAS (instructions available in ERAS).

If you are applying to more than 1 specialty, make sure your letter writers have a generic ending on their letters or write 2 different letters, one for each specialty. Make sure the faculty member then uploads them appropriately for each specialty so a letter doesn’t go to the wrong specialty.

You can track in ERAS whether your letter has been uploaded.

San Francisco Match
If you are applying to the San Francisco Match, please instruct your letter writers to email their signed and scanned letter to psSFmatch@cumc.columbia.edu by the end of July, and it will be uploaded by P&S Student Affairs/Joy Bailey to the SF Match within 24 hours.

Lisa A. Mellman, M.D.
Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs
Samuel Rudin Professor of Psychiatry at CUMC
Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons

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