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Thank you Matthew, that's an interesting question. I think that the most important characteristics to include in a useful reference letter should be comments on the applicant's communication skills and interactions with patients. I think interaction with patients is a very important area to assess and the reference letters provide a useful platform for the program directors to learn about the applicant's typical performance. Beyond this though, I think one of the most important things that needs to change in reference letters, as Dr. Hookey mentioned, is for letter writers to use concrete examples to support the statements they are making about the applicant. Since reference letters seem to be be overly positive and less distinct, putting a statement into context can make it much more useful to the program director and enhance their ability to compare applicants.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this as well. What characteristics do you think are the most important to include in reference letters to help program directors predict applicant performance?

Rachel Bentley

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