How to Obtain Letters of Recommendation

Amiethab Aiyer, MD | Jonathan Kaplan, MD | Matt Varacallo, MD

June 12, 2019


How hard could it be to befriend a well-respected orthopaedic surgeon and show them all of your tremendous qualities that would make you a great resident in order to obtain a letter of recommendation from them… all while on a grueling four week orthopedics rotation shared with numerous other medical students… oh, and not just doing this once but three to four times? Certainly obtaining a high quality letter of recommendation (LOR) is a lot easier said than done. Here are 3 tips from the JAAOS Consortium to assist in obtaining a quality LOR:

1 An amazing letter from an “average” orthopaedic surgeon goes a lot further than an average letter from an “amazing” orthopaedic surgeon.

By no means am I using the term “average” here as a potentially negative connotation.  Rather, often times applicants will target the most well-known surgeon for their LOR, however this can backfire for many reasons. Not only is it going to be harder to develop a unique and individualized relationship with this surgeon who can then demonstrate this in their letter, this surgeon is also likely going to write many LORs for applicants and therefore the resulting letter may be more generic and templated. Instead, an in-depth, well-written LOR from an orthopedic surgeon who knows you well provides better insight to programs as to why you would be a valuable resident. Ask yourself: who is going to most strongly advocate for me?!

2 Understand that the LOR is an opportunity

The LOR is meant to provide programs with information that is not readily available on your CV; otherwise, they’d just look at your CV! It is critical that the person who is writing your LOR knows you. At a minimum, arrange for a private one on one meeting with your letter writer so you can give them insight into who you are not only as a potential orthopaedic surgeon but more importantly who you are as a person. While it is nice to have a letter that reinforces your major accomplishments, a LOR that promotes your work ethic, interpersonal skills, and outstanding character traits will quickly push you to the head of the pack.

3 Having versatility can always be helpful

While the requirements for LOR include having 3-4 letters as well as a chairman’s letter from your home program, this does not mean that you can’t have more options. Each orthopaedic program is unique in their structure, and include certain subspecialty strengths (i.e. a trauma heavy program that relies heavily on residents), levels of academics/research, and other key components. Naturally, each program is not only going to look for the highest overall caliber resident but they are also going to look for an applicant that will fit well into their program. Therefore, having multiple LORs from different types of orthopaedic surgeons benefits the applicant. You can select certain letters that may be more valuable for each program. For example, if the Chairman of a program you like is a foot and ankle surgeon, having an LOR from your department’s foot and ankle surgeon will go a lot further. Try to have unique options for different programs… BUT DO NOT SACRIFICE QUALITY FOR QUANTITY! Remember, a high-quality letter goes a lot further than an average letter, regardless of who the author is.

The list of tips certainly goes beyond these three options, but these serve as a good foundation. Reach out directly to the @OrthoMentor team on Instagram for more advice and input on the letter of recommendation process.

And one final piece of advice, be genuine and appreciative to who you ask. Courtesy goes a long way.


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support. Dr. Kaplan Medline: Paid consultant, Wright Medical Technology, Inc.: Paid consultant. Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE


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