Recommendation formats

Hi all…

I have been asked by one of the nurses I work with to write a letter of recommendation on her behalf. While I wrote many recommendations back when I was in the Army, I have not written one since entering the health profession. Any suggestions on format, things to avoid, or any other general recommendations? Being the super-detail oriented person I am, just want to make sure I don’t mess this up.

Thanks, Tara

Hi Tara,

When I wrote a letter for someone last year, I tried to find a sample format but there was none, so I just winged it. I started with a statement about how the person had my strong support in his candidacy for medical school, then told how I knew him and what I had personally observed about his skills that were relevant to the skills of a medical student or practicing physician. Then concluded with another endorsement. I liked the letter pretty well but I dunno what those who read it thought of it!

I have read lots and lots of recommendations. The ones that stuck were the ones with personal anecdotes and experiences. The academic ones tended to have a particular formula, but even there, professors could give details or stories that really made the person come alive; the “personal experience” ones were only good if they gave details/specifics. “Joe Schmoe shadowed me in clinic one day and I’m sure he’d make a fine doctor” is an example of a bad LOR but I know you know that!


Tara -

It’s important to think about what the letter of recommendation is for, and highlight what you know about that person that would be valued in that arena.

I’ve written many LOR’s for nursing students applying for nursing jobs. In that arena, some of the key traits nurse managers are looking for are :

  1. punctuality and reliability (will she/he show up prepared when and where supposed to?). Often there is something you can have observed that speaks to dependability, preparedness, etc with some specific.

  2. Ability to function in a healthcare team: what skills/strengths do they bring - may be interpersonal relationship or communication skills, can include good attitude, helping out others, etc. Anything positive you can say about communication abilities may deserve it’s own sentance or two.

  3. Are they a good lifelong learner - ask good questions, continually improve practice, seek out opportunities for professional development (CEU’s, etc)?

  4. Clinical skills and judgement/ critical thinking.

  5. Leadership experience/ ability

    Those are areas to touch on. If it is for medical school, obviously some of this is different. My general rule of thumb was to focus on points where I could offer concrete examples, but be willing to include a few evaluative comments (your opinion as a professional of their clinical judgement, for example, is valid even if you can’t think of a specific exemplar). Hopefully one avoids agreeing to write a LOR for someone if one feels hesitant about them for any specific reason.

    Hope that helps give you some ideas to go with. When I started teaching at the School of Nursing, I asked a senior faculty person to show me some copies of letters she had written, which helped me develop some of the points above.


I would add that it is important to say how you know this person and for how long you have known them. If you were their direct supervisor etc.

Oh yes, definately!