PhORCAS: A Bright Future for Reference Writers?

by Leah Bentley, PharmD, BCPS
December 19, 2012

Writing letters of recommendation can be a daunting task for new and experienced reference writers alike, and the addition of the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service (PhORCAS) to this year’s residency application process will reach unfamiliar territories for us all.  After a few years of writing letters of recommendation for many students, I acknowledged the redundancy of the work required to serve as a reference letter writer and became hopeful that a more efficient method would be developed.  We will soon see if PhORCAS is a solution.

While potential applicants and residency program directors have heard about the upcoming changes and most have been provided education on the process, student preceptors or other potential reference letter writers may be less familiar with PhORCAS and how it may affect application submission.  PhORCAS is a web-based portal designed to reduce the need for paper applications and bring the applicants’ information together in one centralized location.  Residency programs are not required to participate.  Therefore, reference writers may be asked to submit letters of recommendation through PhORCAS for some programs and through mail, e-mail, or other avenues for other programs. Thus, residency applicants should be encouraged to provide details to reference writers about individual program requirements in advance.  

Applicants may update information in the PhORCAS portal - including adding references for each specific program - beginning November 19, 2012.  Reference writers will be notified by PhORCAS to login to the portal and complete the materials required by the individual programs when the applicant submits that reference writer’s contact information.  The reference writer must use the information contained in the e-mail to login to PhORCAS and complete the “standardized reference template”.  This template is similar to the ASHP recommendation form previously used by many residency programs with some additional questions meant to replace a letter of recommendation.  Individual programs may still request a traditional letter of recommendation or other supplemental materials, which may also be submitted through the portal.  The applicant will not have access to the materials submitted by reference writers.  Once submitted, the reference writer and candidate will be notified by PhORCAS.

I believe there are aspects of PhORCAS that will be beneficial to reference writers, such as use of the standardized reference template and the fact that process is now in an electronic format.  Once completed, the reference form will be available in PhORCAS to use again or modify for additional programs for the same applicant.  This will hopefully cut down on time previously associated with completing multiple forms with only minor differences between programs.  I also look forward to a reduction in the number of materials that must be mailed.  However, it is important to remember that individual programs may still require supplemental materials from reference writers, which may negate the most prominent benefit of PhORCAS for those completing the reference documents.  Additionally, earlier application deadlines may be expected since many programs will assume applications may now be submitted in a more streamlined fashion.

As the upcoming residency match quickly approaches, reference writers may still anticipate significant time requirements.  However, we will soon see if PhORCAS may be an answer to our prayers for a more efficient and consolidated application process.

Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Available at:  Accessed November 7, 2012.

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