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Frequently Asked Questions

Preparing Preceptors for Residency Interview Season

A preceptor should be prepared for early/preparation, applications, candidate evaluation/rank, and post-match.

The urgent/important matrix describes an efficient manner of identifying issues that should be prioritized, especially when a preceptor is supporting residency needs and his or her own job functions. The most important place to focus is pressing issues, which are both urgent and important. Non urgent and less important items can be managed at another time. View this recommended resource here: Coaching Tools 101: The urgent important matrix – What is it and how to use it! [2020 Aug 25; Cited 2021 Sep 1].

Between August and October, preceptors are usually mentors to their students regarding the residency application process. This is a good opportunity to remind students of who they should ask for letters of recommendations. Preceptors can provide guidance as to whom students should ask and when would be good timing to ask (usually before Thanksgiving). Also, preceptors can provide guidance on how to research potential programs including developing their goals for residency training and priorities. You can direct them to resources such as ASHP’s online Residency Directory to start their search. This is also the time to start reviewing mentees’ CVs and letters of intent. Depending on the institution and interactions with students, preceptors may receive several requests to review application materials each year. If you often handle numerous requests, make sure to consider the workload. October is when preceptors usually start preparing for the recruitment season. It is important that preceptors are prepared to discuss the residency program at their institution since students often have questions.

Consider how many CVs and letters of intent you feel comfortable reviewing for students. Preceptors should also consider their other obligations before committing to reviewing application materials. Also, consider the deadlines before committing to helping students. The time it takes may vary depending on your level of comfort (e.g., 1-2 hours per document), but the key point is that a significant effort is needed. Writing a good letter of recommendation takes even more time. The takeaway is to consider the amount of time available before committing to helping a student.

Make sure to remind students to give you adequate time to review their materials instead of waiting until after the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting. Everyone is busy during the holiday season and students may want to share their CVs during the conference. It is a good idea for them to develop their CV and letters of intent before they attend their local residency showcase or ASHP Midyear. One suggestion is to block time for reviews in October/November. For a thorough review, it generally takes one hour to review both a CV and letter of intent. Also, ASHP offers online resources on developing CVs and letters of intent.

It is also important to provide students with guidance on how to write an effective letter and CV. One suggestion is to arrange a meeting with a group of students on rotation who are planning to apply for residencies. As the preceptor, you can provide helpful tips on writing. This would also cut down on materials for you to review individually later on.

From November through mid-January, preceptors may be supporting multiple students with letters of recommendation. It is crucial to have a standardized method of managing both the time required to write letters and the time required to review student application materials.

Preceptors can start by reviewing goals for both the end of the year and beginning of the following year. This will help prioritize projects, which must be completed. Assessing other personal needs, such as time for conferences and holidays should be prioritized as well. A combination of blocking time to work on projects or rounding, accommodating time zones, and scheduling adequate preparation time allows preceptors to be ready to review student CVs, write letters, review applications, and support residency interviews. Other methods of organizing time include taking time to plan, focusing on SMART goals or the urgent/important matrix, and looking at the big picture. Leaving intentional gaps in a calendar, using color coding, and blocking time for routine recurrent tasks may also be helpful tricks.

Writing a meaningful recommendation letter starts with preparation. Preceptors may request information from a student prior to writing a letter. This can be done before and/or after ASHP Midyear. An example list includes a copy of the student’s career goals, current CV, rotation projects, evaluation if they took the preceptor’s rotation, and description of residency programs. This can include the program name, location, type, if the program has a specific component the preceptor has expertise in, what the candidate’s interest is in the program, deadlines, and any requirements from the program for letters. PhORCAS allows for a set template to be used, which includes characteristics evaluated and narrative comments. When writing a letter, preceptors should become familiar with the template. While not required, the narrative comments provide important context to the letter. Students can also assign one group of letters to the preceptor, so one can be filled out for multiple programs. If a program requires a separate letter of recommendation outside of PhORCAS, the same preparation can apply. Once a preceptor has completed one, that letter can serve as a template to help organize letters in the future. This is especially important if a preceptor does not write letters for students every year.
Check out the Letter of Recommendation Writing Toolkit for additional tools and suggestions. 

Scheduling time for both applicant review and evaluation is probably the most beneficial thing preceptors can do during the residency season. Having time blocked off in your calendar prior to the interview and just after will ensure that you evaluate each candidate when they are fresh in your mind. If you can’t immediately complete your evaluation of a candidate after the interview, make a check list with each candidate’s name that you are responsible for evaluating. This will help you keep track of who you have evaluated and who is still on your list.

Additionally, developing a personal rubric to use during the evaluation of candidates can help you ensure that you are conducting a uniform and objective evaluation.

Plan to condense the full application review and interview process into a shortened time period. Consider requesting recorded presentations and having a shorter interview day (e.g., over Zoom).


These are a few tips to prepare preceptors for residency interview season.

Updated: September 2021

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