Tips for Getting a Nursing Letter of Recommendation

In 2022, universities turned away more than 10,000 qualified applications for graduate nursing programs, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Insufficient faculty, limited classroom space, and budget cuts contributed to the shortfall.

In the current competitive environment, applicants need something extra to stand out from the crowd — powerful nursing letters of recommendation. These letters can help applicants secure coveted spots in nursing schools, internships, and jobs. By following specific strategies to get the best letters of recommendation and pursuing an advanced nursing degree, nurses can position themselves to reach their educational and career goals.

Building Strong Relationships

Building strong relationships in the nursing field not only enriches one’s professional network but also can lead to valuable recommendations. Here are some tips for establishing strong relationships.

Attending Office Hours

Taking full advantage of office hours to meet with professors allows nursing students to establish meaningful connections and receive personalized attention. These interactions enhance their learning experience and also lay the foundation for potential nursing letters of recommendation and future collaborations in the nursing field.

During office hours, nursing students can connect with their professors on a more personal level. By actively participating in these sessions, students can deepen their understanding of course material and forge relationships that extend beyond the classroom.

Consider the following ways to make the most of a professor’s office hours:

  • Seek clarification on challenging concepts.
  • Ask questions about course content.
  • Discuss specific areas of interest.
  • Share academic and career goals and ask for advice on career paths.
  • Discuss progress and seek guidance and feedback on research and projects.
  • Express gratitude for the professor’s time, guidance, and expertise.

Participating in Nursing-Related Clubs or Organizations, Conferences, or Workshops

Joining extracurricular activities related to nursing allows students to meet like-minded individuals and potential mentors. For the duration of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN-DNP) program or another nursing degree program, students will likely have many opportunities to participate in nursing-related clubs or organizations, as well as attend conferences and workshops.

For example, nursing students may seek out national nursing conferences that bring together a range of clinical experts to share advancements across the field in evidence-based practice, health care technology, and patient safety. Nursing students may also attend workshops focused on topics ranging from nursing informatics to ethical considerations in health care.

Additionally, nursing students can cultivate meaningful connections by getting involved in specialty nursing associations, such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. Nursing students may also join nursing honor societies, such as Sigma Theta Tau.

Actively participating in these activities and organizations can provide nursing students with opportunities for networking, scholarships, and access to research and career development resources.

Volunteering in Health Care Settings

Volunteering gives nursing students unique opportunities to give back to the community. It can also help them establish meaningful connections with health care professionals who can vouch for their skills, dedication, and character.

While volunteering in health care settings, nursing students can showcase their commitment to the field. They also have the chance to work alongside experienced nurses who can serve as mentors and guides. These interactions allow them to demonstrate their eagerness to learn and their strong work ethic, which  can leave a lasting impression on those who may later become recommenders.

Be an Engaged and Reliable Team Member

Whether in clinical rotations or professional settings, nursing students should strive to always be active and dependable team members. Showing initiative, supporting classmates and colleagues, and going above and beyond in one’s role can lead to exceptional nursing letters of recommendation.

In clinical rotations, nursing students can take the initiative by familiarizing themselves with patients’ medical histories, participating in patient care tasks, and seeking opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. These actions demonstrate a proactive attitude that can earn them the trust and respect of their supervisors.

In professional settings, nursing students can take on additional responsibilities and volunteer for challenging tasks. By going the extra mile, they not only gain the admiration of their colleagues but also establish themselves as reliable and dedicated professionals committed to their patients and the overall success of the team.

Communicating Accomplishments

Those seeking nursing letters of recommendation need to communicate their accomplishments to potential recommenders effectively. This allows recommenders to have a more complete understanding of their skills and abilities. It also equips recommenders with concrete evidence of their capabilities and enables the recommenders to write a personalized, compelling letter that showcases relevant experiences and standout qualities.

Here are some tips that can help nursing students communicate their accomplishments.

Create a Portfolio of Work

A well-organized and thoughtfully curated portfolio can provide tangible proof of achievement. It serves as a powerful tool when seeking letters of recommendation. Nursing students can keep records of their research projects, volunteer work, and other relevant activities that demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and dedication to the field.

Consider the following ways that nursing students can create a portfolio:

  • Gather documents that demonstrate achievements, such as academic transcripts, certificates, research papers, presentations, and commendations. Then, organize them in a systematic and easily accessible manner.
  • Include a reflective statement that provides context and insights into the significance of the work. Explain the goals, challenges, and outcomes of each project or experience, highlighting roles and contributions.
  • Incorporate multimedia elements, such as photos, videos, or audio recordings of presentations, that showcase hands-on experience and proficiency.
  • Include evidence of professional growth, such as continuing education certificates, conference attendance, or workshops.

Practice Articulating Accomplishments

Many people find it uncomfortable to talk about their accomplishments, and nursing students are no exception. However, by overcoming this discomfort and effectively communicating their achievements, students can greatly enhance their chances of securing strong nursing letters of recommendation.

Nursing students can start by reflecting on their experiences. They may want to write down specific academic achievements, leadership roles, research projects, or clinical successes clearly and concisely.

Next, students can practice discussing these accomplishments out loud. Such practice helps them feel more comfortable expressing their achievements orally and allows them to fine-tune their delivery. Nursing students should keep in mind the importance of an engaging delivery. They can incorporate storytelling techniques, use colorful language, and convey enthusiasm to make a memorable impression.

This approach can help recommenders connect with what they’re hearing and make them more likely to remember and feel appreciation for it.

Online resources and tutorials on effective self-presentation can offer useful tips on effective delivery, but students can also benefit from live feedback from trusted individuals. These individuals can provide more specific insights on how to better highlight certain achievements, or they can suggest improvements in organization for greater clarity.

Highlight How Accomplishments Align with the Program

Students who showcase the relevance of their achievements to the program’s goals demonstrate their suitability for it and can make a positive impression on recommenders. The alignment can also reassure recommenders that the student possesses the necessary skills, experiences, and attributes sought by the program and increase their confidence in recommending the student.

Ways to highlight how nursing students’ accomplishments align with the program they’re applying for include the following:

  • Reviewing accomplishments and identifying those that directly relate to the program’s objectives
  • Providing concrete examples and details of how accomplishments align with a program
  • Emphasizing any specialized training, certifications, or projects that align with the program’s focus
  • Referencing faculty members, courses, and research opportunities that align with the accomplishments

Requesting a Recommendation

When requesting a recommendation, approaching the process professionally and respectfully is essential. Here are some tips.

Choose the Right Person

Nursing students should select recommenders who know them well and can speak to their abilities and character. Ideally, they should choose individuals who’ve seen them in academic or professional settings.

Give Adequate Notice

Nursing students need to request recommendations well in advance. This allows recommenders ample time to craft thoughtful letters. Rushing the process may result in generic or less-impactful letters.

Provide the Necessary Materials

Providing relevant materials, such as a resume, a program description, or any specific instructions provided by the program, makes a recommender’s job easier, and can thus result in a better nursing letter of recommendation.

Be Specific

When asking for a recommendation, nursing students should politely request that the recommender highlight specific examples of skills and experiences that align with the program or job they’re applying for. Specificity adds depth and personalization to the recommendation.

Follow Up Quickly and Appropriately

After receiving a recommendation, nursing students should send a thank-you note or a thank-you email to express their gratitude. Additionally, they should make sure to stay in touch with the recommender, updating them on any progress.

Act Strategically to Secure Powerful Nursing Letters of Recommendation

Securing strong nursing letters of recommendation requires strategic effort. By building strong relationships, effectively communicating accomplishments, and following professional etiquette when requesting recommendations, nursing students can enhance their chance of success.

Discover how excellent recommendations, combined with an advanced nursing education — such as Regis College’s online BSN-DNP program — can pave the way for a fulfilling and successful nursing career.

Recommended Readings

How the Nurse Educator Shortage Is Impacting the Field

What Is the Continuum of Care?

Why Get a BSN to DNP Online?


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Nursing, Raising Concerns About the Nation’s Nursing Workforce

AMN Healthcare, “Top 10 Nurses’ Organizations for Career Development”

BeMo, “Nursing School Recommendation Letter Example in 2023”

BetterUp, “How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (with Examples)”

Fixed Career, 5 Greatest Accomplishments Nursing Interview

Incredible Health, “Letter of Recommendation for Registered Nurses”

Indeed, How to Write a Nursing Reference Letter

Korean Journal of Medical Education, “Strategies for Sustaining and Enhancing Nursing Students’ Engagement in Academic and Clinical Settings: A Narrative Review”

Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing