What you want your VIRMP letters of recommendation to say about you
The VIRMP letters of recommendation are standardized. This means that every candidate will have the same letter template, with the last portion allowing your references to write additional comments. This is shown on one of the training videos on the VIRMP website. Make sure to carefully watch the video so that you’re familiar with the categories that your references are going to be asked to evaluate about the applicants.
As the VIRMP website states, the absence of comments is generally viewed as a negative. I’d say that if one or more of your letters have no comments or very short comments, your application is very unlikely to be successful! It is rare for the comment section to be empty, but I’ve seen a fair number of letters that simply have one or two sentences saying things like: “[Applicant’s name] did well during my [insert specialty] rotation and I’m sure will be a good intern/resident”.
Realistically, the comment section of the letter is the most crucial section. It must present you as an exceptional candidate!
Faculty in academia and clinicians in private practices write letters every year for many applicants. They’ve worked and trained hundreds or thousands of students, interns, and residents. Therefore, they know exactly what to look for. You’ll be at a disadvantage if you are clueless on how your performance is being evaluated for Match purposes!
Here’s what you want in your letter:
- A brief description of how long you have been acquainted and in what position (research assistant previous years, senior clinical rotations, etc)
- Your strengths
- Areas of improvement should also be mentioned – if there’s no mention of any of these, one might think why is there no mention of them since everyone can always improve something about themselves
- Something saying they highly recommend you and would take you for a position as well
- Offering to be contacted if there are any questions regarding your application
These are just examples of comments that will help an internship or residency selection committee make a decision in your favor (ie. rank you higher). You are facing tough competition for these positions and having strong letters of reference is mandatory to improve your chances!
How many letters should I get?
Another question I’m asked frequently is how many letters are necessary for an application. The short answer is you need 3 solid letters in support of your application. A fourth letter is only helpful if it will also be a strong letter or offers slightly different information to the committees. For example, when I applied for an internal medicine residency for the second time (yep, didn’t match the first time around), my letters were from two internists, one surgeon, and one anesthesiologist (which was the 4th letter).
While this letter didn’t really say much about my clinical skills (since I didn’t directly work under her supervision on the clinic floor), it heavily assessed my personal skills, teamwork, and interaction with the anesthesia service while on other rotations. I knew it would be a strong 4th letter because they had offered me an anesthesia residency position the prior year. I politely declined as internal medicine was a much better fit for me.
Now, did that letter make a huge difference? I’m sure it did! – in conjunction with the other three, it offered even more information about me and an additional perspective to the residency committee members to review/be aware of.
Bottom line: don’t get a 4th letter just because you think 4 are better than 3. It can hurt your application if it’s not of the same quality as the others or offers something in addition to them!
If you haven’t seen part 1, click here!
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