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In this edition of Match on My Mind, Deb Rusk, MD, assistant dean for student affairs, offers details on chair letters.

Phase 3: What is a chair letter?

In this edition of Match on My Mind, Deb Rusk, MD, assistant dean for student affairs, offers details on chair letters.

What are chair letters?

It is a letter of recommendation provided by the IU department chair in the specialty you’re applying for residency. The department chair may author the letter themselves or it may be a group document. This letter has many similarities to a standard letter of recommendation, but may also pull in more historical information and be very specific about your interactions with the Department. Think of it as department-to-department communication. 

Not every specialty, or every program within a specialty, will require a chair letter. The specialties that most often require them include internal medicine (called the SEL—see below for more details), general surgery, pediatrics, and OB-GYN.

To see if you'll need a chair letter, check the individual program website to which you plan to apply for their letter of reference requirements. Speak to your specialty career mentor. Often the chair, or their designee, will want to meet with you prior to composing your chair letter.

Be sure to have your CV and personal statement available, even if they are not in their final format! The chair letter will require an ERAS LOR portal request form for uploading into your ERAS file and does count as one of your 4 (maximum) letters that can be sent to programs via ERAS. Other programs may also have a standardized letter requirement.

Check out this page for specialty information on the 2025 Match season.


For internal medicine applicants:

Standardized Evaluation Letter (SEL) was previously known as the chair letter. Inform the Department of Internal Medicine of your intent to apply to IM categorical or preliminary programs by mid-July.

Request a career mentor in IM to help facilitate the letter. Students who make this decision after August 1 will be accommodated on an individual basis.

The Department will conduct a live session (Zoom available) to discuss the expectations, general information, and process of the SEL. Contact Bernetta Hartman to schedule your SEL meeting.

Your IM career mentor will often join you for the meeting with the chair for the SEL. If you're applying to IM preliminary programs, be sure to check the program website to see if a SEL is required. Most often, IM-P programs do not require the SEL. Reach out to your IM career mentor or Dr. Jimmy Hotz for questions.


For general surgery applicants:

A departmental letter is composed by multiple members of the general surgery leadership team—including the chair—and is provided to students applying to general surgery and select integrated programs.

The letter is heavily based on the objective components of the General Surgery Sub-Internship, so students must either be completing the course prior to R6 or have made special arrangements to complete these components.

Contact Megan Rendina or Dr. Katie Stanton for more information.


For OB-GYN applicants:

All students applying to OB-GYN will get a chair letter and a standardized letter of evaluation (SLOE). Chair letters are summative letters of the student that are written by the OB-GYN chair and co-authored by the vice chair of education or clerkship director.

SLOE is a recommended component of an OBGYN application and it is suggested to come from the OB-GYN Sub I, High Risk OB Elective (Riley) and GYN ONC Elective.

Contact Ally Humpert to schedule an August meeting to prepare for the chair letter. Contact Anthony Shanks, MD, for any questions regarding letters for OB-GYN. 


For pediatrics applicants:

A minority of pediatric programs require a chair letter. A full list of all programs and letter requirements can be accessed through the department's Residency Application Mentoring Series (RAMS) Canvas.

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Medical Student Education

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The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.