7 minute read

Applying to Medical School


Letters of recommendation can have a significant impact if they describe you in realistic, qualitative terms (and when they rank you with respect to others applying from your class). When the letter writers discuss not your quantitative achievements (midterm and final or course grades), but you as a person (in terms of your innate potential, motivation, personality, reliability), the communication will be effective. If your recommendation profile makes you stand out as a potential quality medical student and physician, your admission chances will be significantly enhanced and the possibility of your being invited for an interview will be strengthened. If, on the other hand, your letters of recommendation are bland or noncommittal, your chances of getting an interview will not be helped.

It is your responsibility to see that recommendations in your behalf are sent to the medical schools. You can strengthen the quality of your recommendations by making sure that your health professions advisor gets to know you and has a favorable impression of you. In addition, you will be called upon to submit faculty evaluations to the health professions committee or to send out separate letters of recommendation. It is clearly advantageous to ensure that these individuals really know you. This can best be achieved by asking appropriate questions during recitation periods, at personal conferences, or better still, in the course of doing a research or independent study project. All this requires appropriate initiative on your part, which can pay rewarding dividends at the time you apply to medical school.

Letters from prestigious professors, as reflected by their academic rank, are obviously more impressive and effective than those from teaching assistants or faculty instructors. It is not advisable to ask for a recommendation unless you are fairly confident that the individual knows you well enough and is known to follow through on such requests. Otherwise you may end up with a perfunctory recommendation and such a letter may even be late in coming. Therefore, you should tactfully ask the people from whom you are requesting letters if they feel that they are in a position to write about you in a manner that will help your admission chances.

Sample Unconventional Essay

Raindrops pelted my body as I absently stared at the small concentric circles formed from the fusion of a raindrop and a puddle. I loosely gripped the 14-foot fiberglass pole with my perspiring hands, and though: the pole vault — decathlon — third event — second day — the bar set at a logically impossible height, as Mr. Spock would say. Pressure. Whatever the outcome, I would not deny myself the challenge. So I strode down the slick runway, planted the pole, and launched myself up and over the bar — and subsequently into the giant sponge of a pit that sucked me into its depths. Of course, a requirement after a successful vault is back flip in the pit, which I immediately performed to the delight of the roaring crowd — all 23 of them. Thus ends another chapter in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOE WHITE.

Now let us turn to a later chapter, Joe White: The Road to Becoming a Physician.

My ambition to become a physician arose from my desire to help people. But not to help people like a waiter or a mechanic helps people. I want to help people who truly require my services. The first thing that anyone must do in order to help another is to care. I believe this to be the most important quality of a physician. And I believe that I possess this quality. I do, however, realize that it is not always easy to care about someone — especially if he does not seem to care about himself. My experiences with many different types of people will be valuable when caring for patients. However, my motives are not all so unselfish. I have always been fascinated with the structure and functions of the body. My high school and college educations have given me a broad background from which to build. By becoming a physician I will be able to further pursue my inquiry into the functioning of the body.

The road to becoming a physician may be full of potholes, detours, and do not enters. The way is not easy. But, I do not know the meaning of the word “quit” and do not intend to look it up.

Now that I have explained my motivation, let me explain my commitment. When I arrived at Chatham College, I obtained employment in the Health Center as an assistant laboratory technician/phlebotomist, where I have been working ever since. This job has provided me the important experience of interacting with patients. Then the director of the Health Center requested that I join his Student Health Advisory Committee, which functions to inform the student body of various health issues.

To obtain more knowledge about physicians and the practice of medicine, I served as a volunteer in a cardiology department. From this experience I learned much (relatively speaking) about cardiology and realized that the life of the physician was not all roses.

My academic life has not been limited to books. I worked with Dr. Jim Pike of Chatham College on epilepsy research. I enjoyed this very much and found it to an interesting and informative experience.

There was much more to my life than scholastics. I spent many a night with the love of my life — hockey. My club team was able to successfully compete against Division II and III teams. I also spent a good deal of time playing the gentleman's game of rugby.

Through my various activities I have encountered many different types of people. This fall I will be exposed to an entirely new environment. I will be taking a break from my regular science courses in order to study in Paris, where I hope to expand my cultural and intellectual horizons.

I hope that these excerpts from the book of my life have given you a little insight into me as a person. The next chapter is still in the planning stages, but after it is written I will be sure to send you a copy of Joe White: The Physician.

It is also appropriate to arrange to have letters of recommendation sent in your behalf (to your school committee or directly to the medical schools) by a hospital staff member where you have worked (in a volunteer or paid capacity), or other employers, or by faculty members who have known you well as the result of working for them on a special project; these letters can supplement your committee's recommendation. Letters from clergy, family physicians, relatives, friends, or alumni (unless the latter know you exceedingly well) are not only ineffective but may be self-defeating. Such letters leave the clear impression that you have weak credentials that need such unsolicited outside support to merit attention.

In order to arrange that a committee recommendation be sent out in your behalf, your advisory office may require that you complete forms comparable to an AMCAS application and be interviewed by your premedical advisor and/or advisory committee. These proceedings can serve as a “trial run” in preparation for the actual application process. It is therefore advantageous for you to prepare, early in your upper junior semester, a short statement incorporating autobiographical highlights, an outline of your personal attributes, relevant information about your exposure to medicine, and a brief discussion of your motives for selecting a medical career. This statement should be given to professors from whom you have requested recommendations at the time you request them, in order to facilitate their task; it can also be used in completing forms requested by your committee and later by AMCAS.

Bottom Line

Premedical Advisor: Office Recommendations: Bear in mind the following, regarding recommendations:

  • • Have your premedical office set up a file for holding your incoming letters of recommendation.
  • • Aim to secure by the end of your junior year letters from at least three science and two social science faculty and, if possible, two from project supervisors.
  • • Request letters from individuals as soon as the course has been completed so that their impression of you is fresh.
  • • Periodically check with the premedical office to determine if the letters you requested have been received.
  • • Provide stamped self-addressed envelopes to nonfaculty members who are writing on your behalf so as to expedite matters.
  • • To allow letter writers the option of freely expressing themselves, you should sign a waiver relinquishing your right of review.
  • • It is essential that you secure a letter of recommendation from your premedical advisor or committee. An evaluation from such a source carries special weight, and failure to receive one implies a strong caution signal about you.
  • • Provide an opportunity for those who will write on your behalf to get to know you relative to your intellectual potential, personal attributes, and character.
  • • Provide potential letter writers with a brief résumé of your background and achievements so they will have source material to use when preparing their letters.

Faculty recommendations. Faculty are more than teachers: they also serve as subject advisors. Getting them to know you is valuable both in the short and long run.

  • • If you feel you are not keeping up with the class, seek advice early on from the course professor to determine where the problem(s) lies.
  • • Prepare for your meeting with your professor so that you can present your problems in a clear and concise manner.
  • • Make an appointment to see your professor in advance and arrive on time.
  • • Try to be specific in describing a particular problem and indicate how you are attempting to resolve it.
  • • Professors who get to know you and with whom you develop a positive relationship may be good sources to provide recommendations for you at a later date.
  • • Remember, however, that in most cases, your premedical advisor should be your primary source of information and guidance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesGuide to Medical & Dental SchoolsApplying to Medical School - General Considerations, Selection Factors, The Application Process, Recommendations, The Interview, The Selection Process