While it’s not required, you may choose to send a residency letter of interest in the hope it will give you an edge over your competition. Sending a letter as you wait to receive an invitation to interview might be just the push you need to get noticed by your preferred programs. This type of letter may also be used to provide programs with relevant updates to your application, either before or after interviews.
PLEASE NOTE: Not all specialties allow applicants to state interest, send update letters, or contact programs at all. Always check the specific rules of the residency programs you are applying to before sending a letter.
In this post, we’ll break down how and when to send a residency letter of interest or update letter, including key tips for crafting your letter.
Letter of Interest vs. Letter of Intent
Residency letters of intent or interest are similar to those you may have sent when applying to medical school. A letter of interest and a letter of intent indicate to residency programs that you want to be matched with them. Both letters will also include why you feel you would make a great fit and any relevant updates you might have since submitting your application.
However, while you can send a letter of interest to more than one program, a letter of intent is a deeper commitment, and it’s considered unethical to send more than one letter of intent.
You can only send a residency letter of intent after interviewing with the program. Think of it as your final opportunity to make your case to the program. The letter states that you intend to rank the program as your #1 choice when you submit your Rank Order List (ROL).
Residency programs want to ensure that the candidates they’re ranking highest will be an excellent fit and enrich their program. While it’s by no means a guarantee you’ll be matched if you send a letter of intent, being admitted into residency programs is extremely competitive; if the program is trying to choose between someone who sent a letter of intent and someone who didn’t, likely, they’ll go with the person who expressed the deeper commitment.
You can send a residency letter of interest before interview season. The letter informs the program of any relevant updates to your qualifications and lets them know you want to match with them and why, but you’re not committing to anything. The letter shows you’re enthusiastic about the program and excited about the prospect of interviewing and one day earning admission to it.
If you haven’t received an invitation to interview with a residency program you’re hoping to match with, sending a letter of interest that includes relevant and worthwhile recent accomplishments can strengthen your case, help the program keep you in mind, and, hopefully, win you an interview.
Reasons to Write a Letter of Interest or Update Letter
If you’re well into interview season and you still haven’t received an invitation to interview at some of the residencies you hope to attend, it’s important to do whatever you can to secure an interview.
In addition to pursuing research and other volunteer and employment opportunities and continuing to advance your medical knowledge, it’s a good idea to send a letter of interest that highlights your recent accomplishments and reiterates your desire to join the residency program. After all, acquiring new experiences and improving your application doesn’t do you much good if the program doesn’t know about your improved qualifications.
If you have a genuine and notable update to share, such as a new USMLE score, a new publication or involvement in a presentation, or relevant volunteering or employment experience, put that in a letter of interest to give yourself the best chance of matching.
How to Write a Residency Letter of Interest or Update Letter
1 | Be Direct and Succinct
Residency programs have to sift through countless applications. It’s a time-consuming, tedious process, so don’t add to their burden by sending a long letter full of poetic language that dances around the point.
Keep your letter to one page, around 200-300 words. Directly state your interest in the program in your opening paragraph. Use your body paragraphs to briefly say why you believe the program is an excellent fit for you, how you’re an excellent fit for it, and mention any recent and relevant updates to your application. The conclusion should reiterate your excitement about the prospect of interviewing as well as your interest in joining the program. Do not include anything superfluous.
While the letter should be concise, it’s also a formal letter, so do not use colloquialisms or bullet points. Keep your letter professional, clear, and to the point, but use complete sentences.
2 | Illustrate Why You Are Great Fit
Why this program? Why do you feel your experiences and medical education so far make you an ideal match for each other? How do your interests, skills, and values complement those of the program? As always, be specific.
Is there a particular field of research the program specializes in that you’re passionate about? Does your extensive research background complement their intense emphasis on research? How have you lived the values and mission of the program? What moments from your past exemplify this best? How have the values you and the program share shaped your life so far? What have you lost and gained in life by strictly adhering to these values?
When researching programs, dig deeper than the first few pages of the website. Speak to current and former students of the program. How will this program help you achieve your personal and professional goals in the short and long-term? Details are the name of the game here.
Remember: you’re writing to this program because you really, really, really want to interview and be matched with it. Let this energy shine through. Demonstrate your interest and show how much thought you’ve put into your future medical education by being detailed, honest, and enthusiastic.
3 | Only Update If You Have Real Updates
While enthusiasm for the program is excellent, if you haven’t received an invitation to interview and haven’t updated your application in any meaningful way, sending a letter of interest may do little to increase your chances of scoring an interview, and it may waste the program’s time.
But if you have real updates to your application that further qualify you for the program, you should absolutely send an update letter to reiterate your excitement and address your recent, relevant experiences and accomplishments.
Have you participated in a presentation recently, or is your research up for publication? Have you participated in any volunteer or employment experiences that have provided you with greater insight into your short and long-term goals? Is there anything you’ve accomplished recently that makes you a more appealing and qualified candidate?
Be humble, but confident. You’ve worked hard to get here, and you’ve been doing so for years. Include any update that augments your application.
4 | Address Your Letter Correctly and Directly
You can choose to send your letter in an email, handwrite it, or type it out and send it in the mail. While a handwritten note is quaint and adds a nice touch, it’s also not necessary, so if you’re not confident in your penmanship, an email will do just fine.
Either way, it is imperative that you address the letter correctly. You do not want your letter of interest or update letter to get lost in the mail or buried in an inbox.
Address your letter to the residency program director—the person who actually decides which applicants will be accepted. This means you’ll need to do a bit of research. Check the program’s website or pick up the phone to determine the direct contact information of the residency program director.
Do not leave any of this to chance. If you really want to match with this program, do everything you can to ensure your letter arrives on time and in front of the right person.
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