Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicant
The guidelines are intended to enhance the letter-writing process by providing a general framework of best practices and relevant content for letter writers. These guidelines are optional and can be applied to different types of letters of evaluation, including individual and committee letters.
Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation
1) Provide an accurate assessment of the applicant’s suitability for medical school rather than advocate for the applicant.
2) Briefly explain your relationship with the applicant:
- How long have you known the applicant?
- In what capacity have you interacted (e.g., faculty, premedical advisor, supervisor)?
- Are your observations of the applicant direct or indirect?
3) Quality of information is more important than letter length. Focus on the applicant rather than details of the lab, course, assignment, job, or institution.
4) Only include information on grades, GPA, or MCAT scores if you also provide context to help interpret them. Grades, GPA, and MCAT scores are already available within the application.
5) Focus on behaviors you have observed directly when describing an applicant’s suitability for medical school. Consider describing:
- The situation or context of the behaviors.
- The actual behaviors you observed.
- Any consequences of the behaviors.
6) Ask the applicant for permission if you plan to include any information that could be considered potentially private or sensitive.
7) Consider including unique contributions that an applicant would bring to an incoming class, such as:
- Obstacles that the applicant had to overcome and how those obstacles have led to new learning and growth.
- Contributions that an applicant would bring to a medical school’s diversity, broadly defined (e.g., background, attributes, experiences).
8) Admissions committees find comparison information helpful. If you make comparisons, be sure to provide context. Include information about:
- The comparison group (e.g., students in a class you taught, students in your department, co-workers).
- Your rationale for the comparison.
Describe how the applicant has, or has not, demonstrated any of the following competencies that are necessary for success in medical school.
Service Orientation: Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.
Social Skills: Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.
Cultural Competence: Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.
Teamwork: Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.
Oral Communication: Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.
Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others: Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.
Reliability and Dependability: Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.
Resilience and Adaptability: Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.
Capacity for Improvement: Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.
Thinking and Reasoning Competencies
Critical Thinking: Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Quantitative Reasoning: Applies quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world.
Scientific Inquiry: Applies knowledge of the scientific process to integrate and synthesize information, solve problems and formulate research questions and hypotheses; is facile in the language of the sciences and uses it to participate in the discourse of science and explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.
Written Communication: Effectively conveys information to others using written words and sentences.
Living Systems: Applies knowledge and skill in the natural sciences to solve problems related to molecular and macro systems including biomolecules, molecules, cells, and organs.
Human Behavior: Applies knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve problems related to the psychological, socio-cultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being.
The 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students have been endorsed by the AAMC Group on Student Affairs (GSA) Committee on Admissions (COA) who represent the MD-granting medical schools in the United States. The competency list was developed after an extensive review of the medical education and employment literatures and with input from several blue-ribbon and advisory panels, including SFFP, Behavioral and Social Sciences Foundations for Future Physicians (BSSFFP), Institute of Medicine (IOM), 5th Comprehensive Review of the MCAT Review Committee (MR5), Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Outcome Project, the MR5 Innovation Lab, and others.
Medical schools value committee letters because they provide an integrated and institutional perspective on an applicant’s readiness for medical school. These letters provide a comprehensive evaluation of applicants based on direct observation and the synthesis of information provided by faculty and others at an institution. This integrated perspective provides unique and valuable information about applicants.
While many committee letters already incorporate the concepts included in these guidelines and key areas of interest, the material provided here can complement the current committee letter process by enhancing its effectiveness. Those who work with individual letter writers can use these guidelines as an educational tool to encourage greater focus in individual letters. Writers of committee letters may also wish to refashion the overarching committee letter produced by their school to more closely reflect the central points provided on this page.
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