NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Helpful Tips: Writing Letters of Recommendation

It’s that time of year again when students begin flocking to our doors seeking out that letter of recommendation for scholarships, professional programs, and summer internships. In particular, many pre-medical and pre-dental students may ask for letters for their Health Professions Advising Committee (HPAC) evaluation. Please consider not dismissing these students because you are too busy. Instead, remember that you play an integral role in the complicated process they must navigate to reach their professional goals.

Letter writing is not necessarily enjoyable; it can be taxing on our time and can be an inconvenience or a nuisance for many reasons. But one of our duties as faculty is to support our successful and qualified students in their efforts to move beyond our University into professional training (or even into a profession).

To that end, when a student approaches you for a letter of recommendation, you should see it as an honor, not a burden, because they see you as someone who has helped them along that path to their success. That is not to say that you should agree to write a letter of support for every student that asks you.

You should maintain a standard that grants your best students an opportunity for a letter of support. Similarly, you should not withhold letters because you do not have the time or you don’t know the student as well as those students who do research with you. Part of your function as an instructor in the classroom is to assess the academic qualifications of your students, so that should be how you evaluate them.

Letter writing doesn’t have to be complicated. Your letter just needs to affirm the strengths you witnessed in your student as they matriculated through your course. The Health Professions Advising Committee has the following recommendations to help you write your letter:

  • Consider your course objectives (apart from the written syllabus) and how the student’s success in your course demonstrates strengths in those areas. These might be critical thinking skills, written or oral communication skills, and the ability to solve problems or work in teams.
  • Don’t restate what is written in their CV. The admissions committees have access to the CV and can tell when a letter is just a CV review.
  • Using a reusable letter template is acceptable. Consider that there are about 10,000 applications to medical and dental school and each applicant has between 3 and 5 letters submitted on their behalf. Even if you wrote 50 letters with the same template, that’s about 0.1% of all the letters being read.
  • The goal of your letter is to support the student. If you can’t write a positive letter in support of your student, let the student know that they need to seek another letter writer.
  • Finally, in your letter, check that your pronouns are accurate, that the names are correct, that you use a departmental letterhead, and include your signature.

If you have questions or need more specific advice about writing a strong letter of recommendation, the Health Professions Advising Committee (HPAC) is willing to help and even provide examples of good letters on which to build a good template. You can contact Chad Wayne, HPAC chair, cwayne@uh.edu, if you want some advice.

Our students are looking to all of us to help them achieve their goals. They do remember our efforts, and they see you as their faculty influencer. It reflects well on the College and the University when our students flood the professional schools with Cougar red. Let’s help our qualified students reach their goals.