Components of effective letters of recommendation: A cross-sectional survey of academic faculty

Halah Ibrahim, Mohamad Kasem Mohamad, Shahad Abasaeed Elhag, Khairat Al-Habbal, Thana Harhara, Mustafa Shehadeh, Leen Oyoun Alsoud, Sawsan Abdel-Razig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Conventional merit-based criteria, including standardized test scores and grade point averages, have become less available to residency programs to help distinguish applicants, making other components of the application, including letters of recommendation (LORs), important surrogate markers for performance. Despite their impact on applications, there is limited published data on LORs in the international setting. Methods A cross-sectional survey of academic faculty was conducted between 9 January 2023 and 12 March 2023 at two large academic medical centers in the United Arab Emirates. Descriptive statistics were used to tabulate variable frequencies. Results Of the 98 respondents, the majority were male (n = 67; 68.4%), Western-trained (n = 66; 67.3%), mid-career physicians (n = 46; 46.9%). Most respondents (n = 77; 78.6%) believed that the purpose of an LOR was to help an applicant match into their desired program. Letters rarely included important skills, such as leadership (n = 37; 37.8%), applicant involvement in research (n = 43; 43.9%), education (n = 38; 38.8%), or patient advocacy (n = 30; 30.6%). Most faculty (n = 81; 82.7%) were not familiar with standardized letters of recommendation. Only 7.3% (n = 7) of respondents previously received training in writing LORs, but 87.7% (n = 86) expressed an interest in this professional development opportunity. Conclusion There is variability in perceptions and practices related to LOR writing in our international setting, with several areas for improvement. Given the increasing importance of LORs to a candidate’s application, faculty development is necessary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0296637
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 January
StatePublished - Jan 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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