When to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation from a Physician

Hi all,

My name is Matt, and I’ll be a sophomore this fall at Oakland University. This summer, I’ve been shadowing a gastroenterologist, once a week for 3 months in the clinic, and have had an amazing time doing so. He even allowed me to shadow him perform colonoscopies using hot snares to remove polyps and cold snares to get biopsies! However, I am interested in shadowing other specialties, e.g neurology, pathology, and rheumatology, and am considering asking him for a letter of recommendation to move to explore other specialties. However, I have the following questions:

  1. Is it too early to ask this physician for a letter of recommendation?
  2. If I do ask for a letter of recommendation, shouldn’t I be wise about it? I can’t shadow 20 physicians and ask each of them for a letter of recommendation, right?
  3. Should I continue to shadow this physician? He used to be a former coach of mine was I was in elementary school. I am also shadowing an internist, so maybe I should discontinue that to allow myself to shadow one of the aforementioned specialties and continue shadowing the gastroenterologist?

Thanks in advance,

Hi Matt. It’s totally okay to want to shadow other physicians – you definitely should! Once you feel it’s time to go see something else, ask for a letter the second to last time you shadow. Then come for your last time and remind them again if they don’t bring it up. You can save letters of recommendation, but there may be some merit in keeping the relationship going with this physicians.

Check out interfolio.com to learn how to keep your letters while keeping them anonymous to you.


  1. I’d email the physician every couple months or twice a year to keep contact. Maybe go from once a week to once a semester to maintain this relationship, then ask when you’re gearing up to apply.
  2. People generally have 3-7 letters of recommendation. You probably don’t need more than 1 or 2 from physicians you’ve shadowed. Here’s a general good breakdown for letters:
  • Principal investigator
  • Science professor (1-3)
  • Non-science professor
  • Shadowing letter (1-2)
  • Letters from employment, are nice, especially if you were a scribe, medical assistant, or tech for a physician
  1. See above. You could go down to once a month and use the other 3 weeks per month to shadow other physicians.