All health professions schools require one or more recommendation letters as part of the admissions process. At most schools, the initial applications are screened using numerical criteria such as college grades and standardized-test scores. Candidates who pass this initial review are then sent a secondary application. Usually, the secondary application tells you when and where to send recommendation letters. A letter of recommendation is always addressed to the admissions committee at a health professional school; it is never sent to an application service such as AMCAS.
Recommendation letters may be confidential or non-confidential. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 gives you the right to view references that are written on your behalf. You must decide whether to retain that right or waive it; and you must notify both the letter writers and the recipients of your decision. In a recent survey of medical schools in MVNU's tri-state area, nine schools (69%) said they preferred a confidential letter; one school required a confidential letter; and three schools (23%) had no preference.
Letters can be written either by a committee or by individuals. In the survey cited above, eight schools (62%) preferred a committee letter; four schools (31%) had no preference; and one school required individual letters.
Mount Vernon Nazarene University has a Pre-Medical Committee that provides recommendation letters for students who apply to health professions schools. The committee is chaired by Dr. Joseph Lechner and includes six faculty members.
Each student initiates the recommendation process by submitting a written request that specifies which type(s) of schools he or she will apply to; which year he or she hopes to enroll; and whether the letter will be confidential or non-confidential. Ordinarily this request is made in April of the junior year.
The Pre-Medical Committee chair assigns one committee member to work with that student and to write the first draft of the recommendation letter.
The student is primarily responsible for supplying information that will be used in the recommendation letter. He or she selects three or four persons and asks them to complete reference forms which must be returned directly to the committee. References should be chosen carefully. They should include teachers, employers, scientists, and medical professionals with whom the candidate has worked. A minister or a leader of a charitable organization can also be a valuable reference. Ordinarily, persons who are related to the candidate are not chosen as references.
The student is expected to prepare a detailed resume and submit it to the committee. The resume should include information about the candidate's education, employment, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, leadership roles, and experiences with the medical profession.
Finally, the student is expected to arrange for an interview with the committee member who has been assigned to write his or her recommendation. This interview is intended as an opportunity to discuss the student's motivations and qualifications to attend medical school, and to clarify the written information that has been received.
All members of the Pre-Medical Committee review draft copies of each recommendation letter and have opportunity to suggest additions or improvements. The completed letter is sent directly to admissions committees at medical schools. Letters are sent only when the student requests them in writing.