The purpose of a letter of intent (LOI), sometimes called a cover letter or letter of interest, is to highlight aspects of your CV relative to the position you are applying for. From the program’s perspective, the LOI is read to decide whether the candidate has the relevant skills, abilities, and experience for the position, good written communication skills, and goals and interests that match what the program offers.
Developing your letter of intent
Developing a LOI is often the most difficult part of the residency application process because candidates must promote themselves and their achievements. This can feel uncomfortable, especially when just starting out in your career. The key is to substantiate your attributes with detailed experiences and to reference specific achievements. For example, describe what you accomplished in your duties as class president rather than simply state that you held this position.
Two notable things you can do is to show the program that you have done your research and make connections with the program. Even better is to show how your experiences thus far have helped prepare you for particular aspects of the program or how components of the program will specifically help you in your professional development and career goals. The letter should be tailored specifically to the program; avoid writing a generic letter for each program. This demonstrates to the program that you have put considerable effort and consideration into the process. Some tips to keep in mind to help your LOI stand out include making the letter flow, transitioning well between paragraphs, and showing how the information in each section interrelates and points to you as a good fit for the program.
State the position you are applying for, explain how you found the position and why you are interested. Think of this as a thesis statement – clearly outline what you will discuss
- Clearly indicate your effort to learn about the program.
- Example: “I am writing to express my interest in _________. Over the last four years, I have developed skills in X, Y, Z. I believe this position aligns well with my career goals and, as a recent residency graduate, I believe I have a unique skill set to offer your institution and department.”
One or two paragraphs total to support your thesis with specific evidence. Think of these paragraphs like telling a story. For example, if in your thesis you discuss clinical skills, you can elaborate here with a specific patient story versus a general “enjoy taking care of patients”.
- Highlight your strengths, achievements and experiences relative to the program; refer to your CV to help you elaborate on your experiences.
- Describe how your past experiences have prepared you for the position and how the position can help you to reach your goals
- Example: “The last four years of pharmacy school has exposed me to many of the opportunities that the pharmacy profession has to offer, allowed me to clarify my career goals, and provided me with the knowledge and experience necessary to enter the healthcare system. I have prepared IV medications at the inpatient pharmacy at X Hospital and adjusted patients’ warfarin therapy at an outpatient Anticoagulation Management Service at Y Ambulatory Clinic. Through these experiences, I have learned the importance of communication with the patient, interprofessional patient care, and the continuation of learning and growing that every practitioner is responsible for. I discovered the enormous role that education can play, both in and out of the classroom.”
Reinforce your interest, indicate why you are a good fit and thank the reader/program for considering you.
- Summarize the traits you opened up with in the thesis.
- Example: “My passion for knowledge and teaching, my ability to learn quickly and communicate effectively, and my motivation to strive for excellence both academically and professionally make me a strong candidate for the PGY1 residency at Hospital X. I appreciate your consideration of my candidacy and look forward to hearing from you.”
Stacy Miller, Pharm.D., M.B.A., BCACP, an assistant dean and clinical assistant professor shares her tips for writing a letter of intent. Her slides are available to download.
Examples of letters of intent
This Letter of Intent Example contains several helpful hints.
- Stick to a standard, CONSISTENT formatting
- Margins 0.5-1″
- Standard fonts: Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Helvetica
- Font size: 10 – 12 point
- Keep it concise and avoid being overly verbose
- Limit yourself to a single page
- Address your letter to a specific person
- Keep abbreviations consistent (e.g. Pharm.D. or PharmD, Ph.D. or PhD)
- SPELL CHECK
- Seek peer and mentor review
- Include information specific to how that program/job matches with your goals
- RE-WRITE & RE-WORD
- START EARLY
- Use bullets, lists, or outlines
- Use the same letter for all programs
- Describe long tales of personal hardship
- Use an overabundance of buzzwords – avoid repeating certain words and phrases
- Regurgitate your CV; say, “as you can see”
- Provide a generic description of you or the program
- State that the program/position is here to serve you; explain how you are here to serve the patient
- Copy a template from the internet
- Date your letter for the date the application is due