Medical School Letters of Recommendation - The Complete Guide

May 8, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/8/24

Asking for recommendation letters for medical school doesn’t have to be intimidating. Read on to learn how to ask for a recommendation letter!

Med school applications require recommendation letters. Our guide will help you successfully navigate how to obtain strong letters of recommendation for your med school application. We’ll explore what to do before, during, and after you ask for the best medical school letter of recommendation possible. 

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Why Letters of Recommendation for Medical School Are So Important 

Letters of recommendation are a crucial step for medical school. While most metrics like GPA and MCAT score offer insight into your academic capabilities, nothing compares to having professionals vouch for you as a person. If other people in positions of authority can speak highly of your character, it will have a lasting impact on admissions committees. 

Strong letters of recommendation can push a lackluster application over the edge. On the other hand, a negative letter can bring into question your potential as a future MD, even with impressive test scores and a studious academic background.

How to Request for Letters of Recommendation?

We've compiled a helpful list of ways to help you request medical school letters of recommendation. 

Start Early

​​Start looking for professors to write your letters of recommendation for medical school at least three to four months before your application deadline. You’ll need to approach professors early so they have time and can write a well-detailed and personal letter of recommendation

Identify Your Recommenders

The first step in the process of requesting letters of recommendation for medical school is to carefully identify individuals who can provide a comprehensive and positive assessment of your qualifications. Choose recommenders who are well-acquainted with your academic capabilities and work ethic. 

Professors who have taught you in relevant science courses or supervisors from clinical or research experiences are often suitable choices. It's crucial to select individuals who not only know you well but can also speak to your potential as a medical student. 

Keep it Formal

Maintain a formal and professional approach when requesting letters of recommendation for medical school. Initiate the request with a polite email or in-person meeting, expressing gratitude and clearly outlining the purpose of the recommendation. 

Provide essential details, such as deadlines and guidelines, and offer to share materials like your resume for their reference. 

Assist Your Recommenders

After you’ve chosen your recommenders for medical school letters, actively support them in the process. Provide detailed information about your academic achievements, extracurricular experiences, and career goals. Share a well-organized resume and specifics about the medical schools you're applying to. 

This proactive approach ensures personalized and impactful letters that align with your goals. Regular communication and gentle reminders about deadlines help your recommenders manage their time effectively.

Understanding the Process

Before requesting letters of recommendation for medical school, familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of the institutions you're applying to, including the number and preferred sources of letters. This knowledge guides your selection of recommenders and facilitates effective communication during the request.

Follow Instructions

Following instructions is crucial when requesting letters of recommendation for medical school.  Review each institution's guidelines on the number and preferred sources of letters and submission procedures. Provide recommenders with all necessary information and materials, following any specified formatting or content requirements. 

To help give you an idea of how to approach a potential recommender, here is a photo of a sample email of how to ask for a letter of recommendation. 

Medical School Letter of Recommendation Requirements: What to Provide to Writers?

Medical school recommendation letter requirements include a Letter Request Form from AMCAS, which contains instructions your recommender must follow when writing your letter.

You’ll want to make the process as easy as possible for your recommender. This means you should have all document instructions provided by your medical school. This way, your recommender will understand the guidelines and requirements they must follow. Many medical schools make use of the AMCAS Letter Service.

In addition to instructions, you’ll want to gather a list of pertinent files for your recommender to refer back to. These can include your resume, transcript, MCAT scores, and your personal statement. This step is especially helpful if you haven’t been in contact with your recommender so they have more to work with.

Letter of Recommendation: When to Ask?

You should ideally ask for your letter of recommendation as soon as possible. That being said, if you’ve just started a class, volunteer placement, or job, it can be a better idea to wait a bit for your recommender to get to know you better. Once there’s an established relationship, feel free to politely ask for a recommendation.

When Are Letters of Recommendation Due for Medical School?

Letters of recommendation are due around July for medical school, along with your secondary application submission. Medical schools often delay reading recommendation letters until they receive all application materials. 

To avoid anxiety, request that letters be submitted by the end of June, allowing for any potential delays. While recommendation letters may not impact receiving a secondary application, they play a crucial role in interview decisions. Timely submission ensures an organized and comprehensive application process.

Medical School Letters of Recommendation Samples

Here are a few samples of medical school letters of recommendation to help give you an idea of what they should look like.

Example #1


Name of writer and contact information if not included in letterhead


Dear Admissions Committee,

As the head of Biology at Penn State University, I do not often take the time to write these letters of recommendation. However, when Stacey Lee petitioned me to write this letter on her behalf, I could not refuse. During the past 3 years, I have had the joy of having Stacey in my Introductory Physiology and Physiology Laboratory courses. After noticing her superior analysis skills, I also took her on as a paid assistant to edit freshman papers, a responsibility which she has delivered on in a very professional way.

Sign off”

Why this works: In this instance, the professor shares their role as the head of the biology department, outlines the duration of their interaction with the student, specifies the classes in which they instructed the student, and highlights the student's assistance in grading papers. 

Example #2


Name of writer and contact information if not included in letterhead


Dear admission committee members,

It's my pleasure to write this recommendation for Jessica Reedy for your medical school program. I first met Jessica when she took my medical microbiology class in the fall of 2019. This was one of my large lecture classes where I often had limited interactions with students on a personal level, but Jessica regularly met with me during my office hours to discuss the possibility of pursuing a career as a doctor.

Jessica is a very hardworking, attentive individual, which helped her exceed in my class. She continually asked thoughtful questions during my lectures to ensure she understood challenging concepts. When working on lab assignments, she paid careful attention to the directions so she could complete the task correctly.

Jessica also impressed me with her friendliness and willingness to help others succeed. She frequently volunteered to help tutor freshmen students struggling to comprehend their coursework. Many of my colleagues mentioned having their students improve tremendously after working with Jessica.

I wholeheartedly recommend Jessica Reedy for your medical school program. Please let me know if you would like to discuss Jessica's character further or if there is anything else I can add.

Sign off” 

Why this works: This sample mentions the recommender's relationship to the applicant while describing their traits, such as being a hardworking and attentive student. The recommender also mentions that the applicant had participated in volunteer work to help freshman students with their classwork which showcases the applicant’s dedication to helping others. 

Example #3

This next examples discusses social competence and leadership skills:

“Dear Program Director,

It is my pleasure to write in support of the application of Mr. Ian Harris for your residency program.  I have been an educator for decades with considerable experience with national organizations.  I worked closely with Mr. Harris during his third year clerkship as well as during his acting internship.   As is evident from his CV, Mr. Harris has excelled throughout his career with many notable accomplishments which I will not repeat here.  I will focus on my experiences with Mr. Harris, primarily those related to his clinical abilities and which demonstrate the qualities necessary for your residency: excellent knowledge, clinical skills, patient care, and leadership.  I have observed Mr. Harris in both the inpatient and outpatient setting, taught him in class, and overseen his performance during his clerkship and acting internship. 

In addition to considerable intellect and exemplary performances on standardized examinations, Mr. Harris is a warm, engaging individual who teaches others by example, is inclusive, and consistently exhibits curiosity and motivation to learn.  He comes prepared for all types of learning situations, having researched the relevant topics so that he can provide quality care as well as participate actively in class and clinical supervision.  Mr. Harris is articulate, well‐read, and able to utilize his knowledge effectively in the clinical setting.

In addition to prioritizing his own learning, Mr. Harris considers the needs of others.  On multiple occasions, he has arrived in clinic with handouts on relevant clinical topics tailored for the rest of the medical team.   He has been described as one of the best students to rotate on our service by our residents and several attending physicians.   A colleague was so impressed by Mr. Harris’ knowledge and skills that she invited him to give a presentation during Grand Rounds. His presentation was outstanding – comprehensive in scope yet presented efficiently and effectively.  On his own time, Mr. Harris designed a well‐conceived, thorough study protocol on risk factors for readmission within 30 days to our inpatient service.

In conclusion, I am happy to give Mr. Harris my highest recommendation for your residency program. In my experience, he is in the top 10% of all medical students with whom I have worked over the past 20 years. If you have any additional questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Joseph Attending, M.D.

Associate Professor of Medicine”

As you can see, the subject was able to succeed in settings with others, which the letter clearly expresses. This social skills are invaluable in a clinical setting and make the subject a much more appealing medical candidate.

Example #4

The following med school reference letter details a longstanding and holistic view of the applicant:

“Dear Program Director,

It is my pleasure to write this letter in strong support of the application of Ms. Rory Panther for your residency program. I have been clinical faculty with Florida International University since its inception and have worked with family medicine students in the clinical setting for the last 8 years. Overall, I have taught and worked with medical students in the clinic setting for the past 20 years. I worked personally with Ms. Panther over the course of the 8 week rotation in a family medicine clinic. In this capacity, I was able to closely observe and assess her clinical skills.

Ms. Panther was always prepared for each day’s census, reading about every patient’s history, labs, and diagnoses. An example of the level of her preparation was seen in her recommendation that we follow up on sleep issues documented by the therapist in the EMR, indicating Ms. Panther’s thorough knowledge of the patient, including notes by other providers. Another example is that she correctly interpreted abnormal thyroid function studies, and made appropriate treatment recommendations (including strength of medication) and follow up lab recommendations.

Ms. Panther demonstrated her clinical curiosity by asking and answering a clinical question using evidence-based resources. Specifically, she saw a patient with symptoms of a urinary tract infection, but with a clean urine dipstick and looked up the sensitivity and specificity of the urine dip in the face of a strong pretest probability and then seeing that the clean urine dipstick did not negate the history, Ms. Panther looked up the appropriate treatment, including dose and frequency. For a patient with testicular pain, she came up with at least five differential diagnoses, including important “can’t miss” diagnoses.

Ms. Panther also demonstrated strong teaching skills in working with a first year medical student coming to the clinic to learn how to obtain a history from a patient. Ms. Panther went over the patient they were going to see and asked the first year student if she was worried about any part of the history. After interviewing the patient, Ms. Panther gave feedback to the first year student, accurately noting that her body language supported the interview and that transitions might help the interview to flow more smoothly.

Ms. Panther is an exceptional learner who excels in having the abilities to communicate with the patient, to be proactive in the work of the clinic, and the clinical acumen required of an outstanding family physician. She was able to establish excellent rapport with patients of any culture or socioeconomic background including patients below the poverty threshold as well as financially secure and from various countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Pakistan, and Russia. One patient commented that “she asked about everything I was worried about” and was “so kind” in the interview. Ms. Panther cares genuinely for the well-being of patients she cared for.

The nurse also noted Ms. Panther’s clinical skills and team work, specifically that Ms. Panther took advantage of every opportunity to learn, learning to perform blood draws and vaccines with good technique. The nurse also commented that Ms. Panther contributed to completing the work of the clinic, bringing in patients and doing vitals when needed.

Ms. Panther will be an asset to the residency of her choice and will be a hard-working, dedicated housestaff. I am hopeful that she ranks our family medicine residency program top on her rank list. She is in the top 10% of students with whom I have worked over the past 20 years and upon completion of her training she is someone I would trust with the care of my loved ones as patients. If our university had an [name of residency program], Ms. Panther would be an excellent fit in our program. I recommend her without reservation.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to call or email. Ms. Panther has waived her right to view this recommendation.


Name of Attending (signed by hand)”

Part of what makes this example so effective is the writer shares anecdotes that attest to the applicant’s competence and tenacity to succeed in a medical setting. Through the various examples, the applicant shows critical thinking and bedside manners that help her succeed as a clinician.

AAMC Guidelines For Medical School Letter of Recommendation

Here are the AAMC guidelines for medical school letters of recommendation

  1. The recommender must provide an accurate assessment of the applicant’s suitability for medical school rather than advocate for them.
  2. The recommender must mention their relationship to the applicant, how long they’ve known them, what capacity they’ve interacted with, and if the recommender's observations of the applicant are direct or indirect. 
  3. Focus on the applicant rather than details of the lab,  course, assignment, job, or institution. 
  4. Recommenders should only include information on grades, GPA, or MCAT scores.
  5. Recommenders should directly focus on behaviors they’ve observed when describing an applicant’s suitability for medical school.  
  6. Request the applicant's consent before including any details deemed private or sensitive.
  7. Include distinctive contributions that an applicant could make to an incoming class, such as:
  • The applicant has successfully navigated challenges, detailing how these obstacles resulted in valuable learning experiences and personal growth.
  • Contributions that the applicant would bring to the diversity of a medical school encompassing various aspects like background, attributes, and experiences.
  1. Admissions committees appreciate the inclusion of comparative information, but it's crucial to offer context. This should involve details about:
  • The comparison group, such as students in a class you taught, colleagues in your department, or co-workers.
  • Your rationale behind the chosen comparison provides a clear justification for the relevance of the comparison group.

While these guidelines are optional, they’re useful. We suggest you share them because they outline the core competencies medical schools seek in students. 

The process is simpler if your references have a structure to work from. These guidelines help your recommenders write you a strong letter of recommendation.

FAQ: Recommendation Letters For Medical School

We’ve outlined several questions and answers to help you understand how to ask for medical school letters of recommendation. 

1. How Early Should I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Medical School?

You should ask for a letter of recommendation for medical school three to four months before the submission deadline. This gives you ample time to find a recommender, for them to write it, and for you to review it. 

2. How Many Recommendation Letters Do You Need?

Typically, medical schools ask for a minimum of three recommendation letters. The number of recommendation letters you need is dependent on what the medical school you’re applying to requires. 

3. How Old Can Letters of Recommendation Be for Medical School?

Generally, a letter of recommendation should not be more than one year old. If you have a letter of recommendation that exceeds this timespan and cannot receive a newer one, try to ask the recommender to redate the previous letter they’ve written to solve this issue if you’re reapplying to medical school.

Final Thoughts

Medical school letters of recommendation are crucial to your application. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost with so many factors to consider. After all, you must research application requirements, submission deadlines, forms, how to access online portals, and how to ask for med school recommendation letters.

Our guide simplifies the process and takes the stress out of preparation. Remember to follow these tips to receive the best medical school letter of recommendation!

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