Choosing Letters of Recommendation for an Internship

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You want to get a great internship and you need letters of recommendation.  Hopefully, you have followed the advice already given to let potential letter writers know of your interest and asked them ahead of time.  In addition to strategizing your clinic rotation selection, you need to strategize who should write you letters of recommendation. First, let’s look at some caution areas.

1) The vet you have worked for since high school.  Most non-academic veterinarians do not know how to write a good letter of recommendation.  I have read dozens of letters from these professionals and, though they are very positive, they are not very helpful to me as an evaluator.

2) The non-veterinary boss.  Unless you worked in a veterinary research lab in vet school or undergrad, any paid employer is unlikely to know enough about clinical veterinary medicine to write you a compelling letter of recommendation.

3) Only letters from outside your institution.  If I get an application from a student from the South Harmon Institute of Technology and NONE of their letters are from faculty at South Harmon, I get instantly suspicious.  Is this applicant difficult to work with, so those at their home institution would not write a good letter for them? You should have at least half of your letters from faculty at your home institution.

4) Letters from the non-clinical field.  If you are applying for a clinical internship, you need people who can speak to your clinical acumen.  If you did a rotation in microbiology, that may be interesting, but may not bear on your abilities as a clinician.  If you did research with someone whom you did not work with on clinics, that also falls into this group. If you can get your letters without resorting to one from this domain, that would be better.

Now that we have gotten the problem areas out of the way, whom SHOULD you ask?

1) Core clinical discipline faculty.  This is surgery, internal medicine, and emergency/critical care.  If you don’t have a stellar performance in at least one of those disciplines, you probably won’t make a very good intern.  If you can get letters only from core clinical discipline faculty, great.

2) Ancillary clinical discipline faculty.  This is cardiology, neurology, anesthesiology, oncology, and radiology.  These disciplines are clinically oriented and interface with many other disciplines.  You may have 1-2 letters from this group in total.

3) Peripheral clinical discipline faculty.  This is anyone outside your species focus (e.g. you are applying for a large animal rotating internship and the letter-writer is a small animal internist), ophthalmology, dermatology, pathology, behavior, theriogenology, and ABVP specialties (unless you are applying to an internship in one, such as shelter or exotic animal).  You may have 1 letter from this group in total.

You have 3 letters of recommendation at a minimum and up to 4.  Therefore, my recommendations are thus:

2+ letters from core disciplines

+/- 1 letter from an ancillary discipline

+/- 1 letter from a peripheral clinical discipline OR outside your home institution

If you cannot find people to write you good letters based on this recommendation, you may ‘downgrade’ each category.  Realize that, if you only have letters of reference from peripheral clinical discipline faculty, your application is likely to be looked at with substantial skepticism.  The intern year is a time to hone your core clinical skills. The program evaluators want to make sure you have at least some basis in those core domains before accepting you into their program.  Make sure your recommendation writers demonstrate your core medical knowledge.

4 thoughts on “Choosing Letters of Recommendation for an Internship

  1. Pingback: Recommendation Letters Series | The Vetducator

  2. Pingback: Choosing Letters of Recommendation for a Residency | The Vetducator

  3. AvatarVetMed Survival Guide

    Awesome post! I’d add that asking someone for a letter just because they are very well known in the field but didn’t really work with you is not a good idea. At least a couple reasons why:
    1.If they didn’t work in depth with you, they don’t really know you as a clinician (remember that even as a student you should act and think as a clinician) and their letter won’t/might not be a strong one. And if it’s not a strong, it might actually hurt your application.
    2.If you decided to get the well known clinician’s letter in detriment of the junior faculty member’s that worked closely with you during the entire rotation, you probably just missed on a really good letter that would get you a step closer to success (assuming your interactions were positive!).

    Reply
    1. The VetducatorThe Vetducator Post author

      That is an excellent observation! It’s more about the personal relationships you develop than the ‘reputation’ of the person writing for you. Also, I think a lot of those more famous people who write letter get innundated with requests, so they may tend to write more generic letters than the letter writers with only 1-2 people asking them that year.

      Reply

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