The one thing I hate the most about medical training is the permission-based hierarchy. You cannot ascend to the next level (i.e getting into medical school, moving on to your next rotation, going into residency, and whatnot), unless some “higher-up” vouches for you.
This higher-up vouches for you by writing evaluations and / or letters of recommendation. They’re very subjective. And you’re very powerless, especially when a nod or a head-shake can determine the course of your future. (And I hate feeling powerless.)
So far, I kept pace and “leveled up.” My journey to being a doctor is progressing along, right on schedule. (Thank God!)
I gotta say though … I did not have a smooth ride when leveling up from a mere medical school applicant to a soon-to-be doctor. Why? Well, I just got no luck with the ladies — when it comes to my letter of recommendations.
Lemme explain what I mean …
Unlucky with the Ladies
At one naive point in my life (around the end of high school and the beginning of college), I though almost everyone said what they meant … and meant what they said. Liars were bad people, and most people are good.
Or so I thought … until I plunged in the world of dating in college.
Imagine my surprise when the cute girl I just met agreed to go out with me. She even gave me her number! I was on cloud 9.
Then imagine my horror when the same cute girl totally ignores my call. I thought she wanted to go out. She said so. Earth to Alex, she was only being “nice” and didn’t want to hurt your feelings.
If you’re a typical, American girl (or even one of the few guys that actively pursue such girls), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
(If you’re one of those “nice,” flakey girls, you’re not being that nice. It is actually quite cruel and cowardly of you. But I digress.)
I have no ill will towards flakes and liars. It is all part of the bizarre game of dating and hooking up. Even the most charming rico suaves deal with them.
Even Doctors and Professors Flake
So yes, I am quite aware and quite experienced with flakers. But I never imaged that I would experience flakiness from doctors and professors. I thought they grew up and stopped playing kid games. They’re supposed to be … you know … professional. And professionals keep their word, no?
But you’ll be surprised.
Maybe I’m just unlucky. But I did not meet just 1 flakey doctor / professor. Nor even 2 of them. I encountered 3 flakes. Normally, not keep your word for something trivial like a date is fine. But in these cases, I did not ask for the doctors / professors to go out with me. (Yuck!) I asked for letters of recommendation — which are required for getting into medical school and getting into residency. But when they involve my future, lying and dropping the ball are not trivial at all.
My Letters of Recommendation Experience for Medical School and Residency
In total, 11 people agreed to write me strong letters of recommendation: 4 males, and 7 females. I gave each of them my personal statement, resume, and instructions on how to send in the letters. Every month, I would send them a reminder e-mail.
So basically, I did everything in my power to ensure that I would get good letters. First, I asked for a strong letter. The people I asked could have gracefully decline, but almost everyone I asked were willing to write. (What can I say? I’m likeable.) Second, I gave them everything they would need to know about my accomplishments and my goals. Third, I understand they could be quite busy. Therefore, I asked months in advance. I also took extra steps to keep them from forgetting.
Out of the 11 people, only 8 people wrote and sent in my letters. The three people who broke their words were all female. (All the men got their letters in.)
The Hall of Shame
Since these people are not my patients, they are not protected by HIPAA. Thus, I’m going to write about them. I won’t tell you their names, only their descriptions. Nothing has been altered in any way. So if you really want to find out who they are, you can do so with a bit of digging.
Flake #1 – Female Chemistry Professor
She was a professor in the local community college, teaching general chemistry. (She doesn’t understand a lick of organic chemistry. I asked her for help after class to better understand something in my MCAT book, but she was useless.) I made small talk with her and got good grades in her class. I thought she’ll write me a strong letter. But boy, I was wrong.
I gave her 3 or 4 months to get the letter in. She acknowledged receiving my packet (personal statement, resume, and instructions.) She responded to my e-mails the first few times, but did not respond at all later on. By the time I started interviewing for medical schools in September, her letter was not in yet. She was still ignoring my e-mails. I had to scramble for a letter from someone else.
Flake #2 – Female Family Medicine Doctor
She was a doctor in the clinic right next to my school. (It is only a 5-minute walk.) I’ve worked the most with her than any of the other doctors there. I made small talk with her and got to know her a bit. She also just finished residency. Therefore, I thought she would most likely to help out a medical student (since she went through the same crap herself not too long ago). She’ll get her letter in, without any problems. I was wrong again.
I gave her 6 – 7 months to get the letter in. She did not respond back to me at all. She didn’t even respond to my very first e-mail. She did not acknowledge receiving the packet. (I gave her a paper copy and a digital copy.) By September, when I was already lining up interviews for residency, her letter was not in yet. She kept ignoring my e-mails. I had to scramble for a letter from someone else.
Flake #3 – Female Family Medicine Doctor
She was a doctor in the clinic right next to my school too. (She works with flake #2. I’m sensing a pattern here.) She was very strict. When I missed only 1 day of rotation, due to an illness, I had to make it up later in the week. Therefore, I thought she would be strict with her words. When she agreed to write a positive letter, I seriously thought I would get a positive letter. I was wrong … otra vez.
Like flake #2, I gave her 6 – 7 months to get the letter in. Unlike flake #2, she responded to my e-mails. She acknowledged receiving the packet. She responded to my e-mails and promised to get it in by August. But when August rolled around, my letter was not in. I e-mailed her to find out what was going on. I got excuses. My school’s GME director even left her a personal voice mail, asking her to get the letter in. I never got my letter. I scrambled for a letter from someone else.
Yes, she is strict. But not with herself, only with others. Don’t you just love this type of people?
The Takeaway Lesson
You know what’s funny? I only needed 3 letters for residency. And because I was applying to an uncompetitive specialty, such as family medicine or another primary care specialty, I only needed the letters to not say bad things about me. The letters could have been generic and average. The writers could have copied a template from the internet. I could not have cared less.
But knowing my luck, I expected one doctor to flake. Therefore, I originally asked 4 doctors for letters. But what do you know? This time, instead of getting one flake (see flake #1), I get two flakes (see flake #2 and #3).
I hate getting letters of recommendation.
So what have you learned?
- Alex is unlucky with the ladies … when it comes to letters.
- Get your letters from men, instead of women. (If possible.)
- Getting letters of recommendations suck.
For more medical school stories, visit the About Alex section and look for “Blast from the Past (Stories of My Medical School Days).”