Letters of Recommendation Details - Class of 2019

Message sent to the Class of 2019 by Dean Mellman (5.29.18)

Dear Class of 2019,

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 form I gave you suggestions for where letters of recommendation could come from 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 in each specialty (specific names noted on your MSPE and career advising form, and more are listed in P&S Career Advising courseworks site) are also available to help you make these decisions.

Since 2015, medical schools are not allowed to upload or view any letters of recommendation. ERAS requires the letter writer to upload the letter directly.

Number and type of letters

As I explained in an email in March and our class meeting May 10,

·         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. They must come from faculty, not residents or fellows.

·         Programs want 3 and especially in non-surgical areas will usually accept 4 letters for your residency application.

o   2 are clinical from the specialty (from MCY or more often electives), including the subI or highest level elective in the specialty taken no later than August. The 3rd (and if you have a 4th) may be clinical from the same or another specialty (e.g. medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, etc.) or scholarly project

o   A letter from your scholarly project mentor can give a good description of your initiative, follow through, critical thinking, problem solving and personal qualities and be helpful, assuming your mentor knows you.  

o   It is expected that MD/PhD students and those doing a full year off for research will always have a letter from their PI, which almost always means having 4 letters  

·         In surgical specialties all clinical letters come from the specialty.

·         The actual number of letters requested is listed on the program’s website.

·         You may have more than 3 letters and send select letters to select programs.

·         You may use a letter for an advanced residency program (PGY2 entry) to apply for a PGY1 year in Medicine or Surgery.

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; Dr. Robert Grant for plastics
  • OBGYN-Dr. Mary D’Alton
  • A few pediatrics programs require a chair’s letter, which comes from Dr. Marina Catallozzi (reach out to her) and the new chair, Dr. Jordan Orange.

Timeline for getting letters

Residency programs expect to see letters with your ERAS application September 15, and at the latest, September 30 so they are present when the MSPE is available to them October 1. Letters from September electives may be feasible if the letter writer will get their letter in by the end of September. 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. You cannot assign the letter to a program until you have applied to the program.

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. The latter is safer. 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.

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