How Soon Can I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?


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How Soon Should You Ask a Doctor for a Letter of Recommendation?

Session 99

If you’re like most nontraditional premeds, you probably don’t have a lot of time to shadow doctors. If you can’t build great relationships over time for all your letters of recommendation, what do you do? How do you ask a doctor for a letter of recommendation without being rude or springing it on them?

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:38] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:

As usual on the OldPreMeds Podcast, our question today is taken from the Nontrad Premed Forum:

“I’m a nontraditional premed student preparing to apply in the early summer for matriculation in fall 2019. I’ve currently shadowed three physicians and have received letters of recommendation from them. However, these were friends who knew me for years and so they were practically prepared to write me a letter of recommendation before I ever stepped foot in their offices. They were also all MDs.

For various reasons while I’m applying to allopathic schools, I have a much better chance at entering an osteopathic medical school. The DO schools I’m applying to require at least one letter of recommendation from a DO.

As a side note, I work full time to support my family, so I’ll only be able to work with a physician either for a day or two using vacation time or outside of the typical 9-5 Monday through Friday schedule. My current job explicitly is not supportive of me leaving them, and so they will not work with me on this.

When is it reasonable to ask a doctor for a letter of recommendation, from the time you meet them and start shadowing?Click To Tweet

All this to ask: When is it reasonable to ask a doctor for a letter of recommendation, from the time you meet them and start shadowing? I assume I’m correct that one or two days of shadowing them is insufficient. But then again, many people are hired for jobs based on the impression they make on an interviewer in a one-hour conversation. Maybe this is similar.

I simply don’t want to make myself look stupid by asking far too early, and I don’t want to use up valuable time shadowing that I should spend elsewhere. Any help is appreciated.”

[04:18] How Soon Should You Ask a Doctor for a Letter of Recommendation?

First, understand that a letter of recommendation is supposed to convey to the admissions committee who you are. And this position is putting their reputation on the line for you. So how long does it take for them to get to know you and write a strong letter of recommendation?

This student has friends who are physicians. Those are going to be very strong letters of recommendation. And yes, it’s okay to get a letter of recommendation from a friend. Also, it should explicitly say in that letter that they’ve known you for x number of years.

For somebody you’re shadowing for a couple of days or hours, it’s going to be harder for them to write a strong letter. But it’s not out of the ordinary in this situation.

How to Ask a Doctor for a Letter of Recommendation

Introduce yourself to the doctor, and tell them you’d love to shadow them, especially because they are an osteopathic physician. Tell them you want to apply to a DO school and you need a letter of recommendation from a DO. Tell them that you want to make sure you understand what osteopathic medicine is all about.

Be up front with them that you hope to get a letter of recommendation from them if they’re willing. Then, ask how long does it normally take for them to write a strong letter of recommendation. Ask that question. Don’t go in blindly.

[Related episode: How Do MD Schools View Shadowing a DO?]

Tell the Doctor Up Front That You Need a Letter of Recommendation

Set up the expectation from the beginning. A lot of students miss that part of the conversation. They tiptoe around at the end of the first day of shadowing and awkwardly ask for a letter of recommendation. Now the physician thinks you’re making them do work.

A lot of students just tiptoe around at the end of the first day of shadowing and awkwardly ask for a letter of recommendation. Don't do that.Click To Tweet

If you set up the expectation of a letter of recommendation from the beginning, the doctor can think about what questions they want to ask you during the day. They’d know what they need from you before you start shadowing or as you’re shadowing. They may want your resume, your list of extracurriculars, or your personal statement.

There’s No Rule for How Long

Finally, there’s no rule for how long it will take before a doctor feels comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation.

Set up the expectation when you’re asking about shadowing them. Then let them tell you how long it’s going to take.

[08:00] Final Thoughts

Letters of recommendation are a huge stress point for traditional and nontraditional students. The typical type-A personalities don’t like relying on other people. But for a letter of recommendation, you have to rely on somebody else to get something done for you. So be prepared. Go in directly and ask for it.

Links and Other Resources

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