Writing recommendation letters is never easy, and the requests seem to come in batches. To make this process more tolerable, use the tried-and-true Newman's Handy-Dandy Recommendation Letter, and never worry again. Simply circle the applicable phrase from the choices in parentheses, and recommend away!
Dear (program director/personnel chair/parole board),
It is with (the greatest/absolute/incredible/marginal/minimal) (pleasure/disinterest/dismay) that I write this recommendation letter for __________________________. I have known this (student/resident/creature/felon) for (4 years/a while/way, way, way too long/a nanosecond) and feel I can evaluate (him/her) (fairly/accurately/as well as can be expected for a complete stranger/with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek).
When it comes to professionalism, this candidate is (peerless/teetering on the cliff/beyond redemption). When we worked together in the (nursing home/indigent clinic/chain gang), (he/she) was (loved/tolerated/despised) by the (patients/staff/inmates). I heard many times from them how impressed they were by (this candidate/the low bar being set/the lack of solid admission criteria to our school). It made me (proud/bored/nauseated).
In terms of clinical acumen, this person is without a doubt performing (in the top 10th percentile/in a mediocre fashion/like a trained seal). I would let (him/her) take care of my own family (without hesitation/but I don't like my family too much, and I do have a large insurance policy on them/if there were absolutely no other physician left on earth). The history-taking was (outstanding/minimalist/absent) and the physical exam skills were (exemplary/primitive/non-existent). There was (always/occasionally/never) a complete differential diagnosis and (great/some/absolutely and positively no) consideration given to cost-effective test ordering. Discharge summaries were (haiku/exceptional/epic poems). (He/she) was functioning at a level (way above/equal to/ridiculously below) peers.
In reviewing previous evaluations of this person, frequent comments included [circle any that apply]:
- the greatest student I've ever had the honor to work with
- an exceptional hospitalist and a credit to the profession
- forgettable and unremarkable. Not sure he/she even showed up
- a truly unusual person, perhaps better suited to studying actuarial sciences
- misanthropic, belligerent, antisocial, intolerable…but did all charting in a timely fashion
- dazed and confused
- outstanding, when everyone else is inside and seated
This person and I were involved in a research project that (was/might be/hasn't a snowball's chance in you-know-where) of getting accepted for publication in (a very high-level peer-reviewed journal/ACP Hospitalist/a magazine you might look at in the grocery store aisle but never buy). (His/her) part in preparing this manuscript was (essential/adequate/nonexistent). I look forward to seeing (what this person publishes in the future/the door hit this person's butt on the way out of my office/an end to this person's request for recommendation letters). We also (successfully/partially/never) completed a quality project on medication (safety/identification/self-administration).
In (conclusion/a coma), I give (my highest/a begrudging/my absolute rock bottom) recommendation to this young learner. (He/she) will be a (good/very good/excellent/really hideous) addition to your (school/team/residency/gang). Please (feel free to/do not ever) call me for further discussion. (He/she) has waived the right to (see/edit/write/burn) this letter of recommendation.
Yours (truly/with some embarrassment),
__________________________ (your name here)