NYMC Faculty Publications

Attitudes Towards and Impact of Letters of Recommendation for Anesthesiology Residency Applicants

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Medical Education Online

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Background: This survey aims to identify the relative value and the critical components of anesthesiology letters of recommendation(LORs) from the perspective of Program Directors (PDs) and Associate/Assistant Program Directors (APDs). Knowledge and insights originating from this survey might add to the understanding of the anesthesiology residency selection process and mitigate unintended linguistic biases.Methodology: Anonymous online surveys were sent to anesthesiology PDs/APDs from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited anesthesiology residency Programs in the USA (US), as listed on the ACGME website and the American Medical Association Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database (AMA FREIDA) Residency Program Database. The survey authors were blinded to the identity of the respondents.Results: 62 out of 183 (33.8%) invited anesthesiology PDs/APDs completed the survey anonymously. In our survey, LORs are reported as more important in granting an interview than in making the rank list. 64% of respondents prefer narrative LORs. 77.4% of respondents look for specific keywords in LORs. Keywords such as 'top % of students' and 'we are recruiting this candidate' indicate a strong letter of recommendation while keywords such as 'I recommend to your program' or non-superlative descriptions indicate a weak letter of recommendation. Other key components of LORs include the specialty of the letter-writer, according to 84% of respondents, with anesthesiology as the most valuable specialty. Although narrative LORs are preferred, 55.1% of respondents are not satisfied with the content of narrative LORs.Conclusion: LORs containing specific keywords play an important role in the application to anesthesiology residency, particularly when submitted by an anesthesiologist. While narrative LORs are still the preferred format, most of our respondents feel they need improvements. The authors suggest specific LOR improvements including creating formalized LOR training, adding a style guide, and applying comparative scales, with standardized vocabulary in the narrative LOR.