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A Guide to Medical School Recommendation Letters

Asking for a letter of recommendation for medical school doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Our guide can help you with your application and references.

What Makes a Great Letter of Recommendation for Medical School?

If you’re applying to medical school, you’ll know that a recommendation letter is one of the requirements. Typically written by a previous tutor or professor, the recommendation letter is designed to present an evaluation of your education and suitability for a career in medicine. In this blog, we look at the reasons behind a recommendation letter and reveal when and how to ask for one. 

The importance of a good recommendation letter for medical school

Your recommendation letters have a considerable part to play in the overall application process for medical school. It is essential to ensure the recommendation letter is written by a person who knows you well and is able to give a good overview of your skills, experience, and accomplishments. For this reason, you must ask the right person to do it. 

As well as knowing you well, the writer should also be enthusiastic about the task at hand. It helps if they’ve written one before and know what to include. The main purpose of a medical school reference letter is to help enhance your application and make you stand out from the competition. These letters are designed to impress you by showing off your personality and accomplishments and highlighting why you deserve a place in the program. 

How many letters of recommendation do you need?

This usually depends on the specific medical school you are applying to, so it’s important to do the appropriate research first. Typically, most schools require at least three different letters — and they’re often quite strict about the numbers. If a school asks for three letters, only submit three, no more. 

There are also different types of medical school letters of recommendation: committee, individual, and letter packet. Your university’s advising committee writes a committee letter representing you as an individual. A letter packet contains multiple letters from your referees and is sent out by your college’s career department — but it does not include a letter from the committee. Individual letters are exactly that — letters written by referees like professors or employers. 

It’s wise to review the application process of each medical school you wish to apply to, as different medical schools will require different letters based on your situation. For example, if you’re a student, you may be required to obtain letters from your teachers, and if you’re employed, you may need to ask your employer to write you a letter. Some also recommend getting more letters than needed if you require a backup later. 

Who should write your letter of recommendation?

This will depend on your current situation and should be outlined in the admission process of your desired medical school. Below, we’ve highlighted some common examples of who would write your letter of recommendation. 


Some medical schools will want a letter from your current or previous science professors, mentors, and non-science tutors. These should help you show off a wide variety of skills and experiences. You don’t need to worry about scoring straight A’s in the subjects. If your tutor has seen your ability to work hard, improve, and be dedicated, they can give you a good recommendation. One thing to consider, however, is the number of students that particular professor teaches. If they don’t know you personally, choose someone who does. Your letter should highlight your skills, passion, and drive for your future career. 

Physicians and doctors 

Some medical schools may allow letters of recommendation from a medical professional you have shadowed. Similar to obtaining a letter from your professor, choosing a doctor or physician who knows you well is important — and not just someone you have worked with for an hour or two sporadically. 

If they can highlight how you work — or even better, helped — in a medical setting, that will work in your favor. This includes critical thinking, the ability to make safe decisions quickly , and your interactions with patients. If the medical professional can use real-world examples of your experience, this will likely benefit you. 

Research supervisors

If you’ve been involved in any research projects at school, a research mentor could also be asked to write your recommendation letter. Again, choosing someone who knows you well and has key examples of your strengths is important. The letters that work best to help you stand out will demonstrate your willingness to undertake hours of research and report writing and your ability to solve problems, analyze data, and work individually and as part of a team. 


If you’re no longer a student, your employer may be asked to provide you with a recommendation. What’s more, if you don’t currently work but have undertaken voluntary work, a volunteer supervisor can also write a letter. This is an excellent opportunity to highlight your character strengths and qualities in a work-type setting.  The letter should showcase your leadership capabilities, teamwork attributes, and personal accomplishments. A co-authored letter from multiple individuals can be used if you work  with multiple managers or supervisors. 

When should you ask for a letter of recommendation for medical school?

Wondering how to ask for a letter of recommendation? Typically, it’s requested via email or in person. It’s important not to leave this until the last minute and to consider how long someone might take to write a reference letter. For this reason, you need to start preparing for the application months in advance of the deadline. 

It is beneficial to ask for a recommendation letter after you have finished a certain project or volunteering experience. That way, your skills and achievements will be fresh in the writer’s mind. 

Medical school letter of recommendation requirements

Your letter of recommendation must follow specific formats and adhere to special procedures. These include being written on official letterheads and being signed manually. The letter must also be dated and saved in electronic format.

At MUA, two letters are required — one from a professor and one from a doctor or employer who has supervised you. There are no strict guidelines on how long a letter of recommendation should be, but one or two pages are usually sufficient. You can also find several medical school recommendation letter samples online for guidance. 

Remember, this is your chance to get a place in your dream medical program, so don’t be afraid to ask for a strong recommendation letter. Explain to the writer what this means to you, and keep an eye on the deadline to ensure you deliver your letter quickly. It would help if you were never asked to read the letter, as these are typically considered confidential. Instead, choose someone to write the letter you know will do well. Don’t forget to thank them afterward.

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