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Academic Medicine:
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Poison pen letters, due process, and medical schools' policies toward anonymous correspondence that disparages medical school faculty

Paola, F A; Malik, T K; Walker, R M

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Abstract

PURPOSE: To learn more about the frequency of and response to poison pen letters (anonymous correspondence that disparages faculty members) in academic medicine. METHOD: The authors surveyed all 143 deans of medical schools that are members of the AAMC about their practices and policies regarding the handling of poison pen letters. RESULTS: Of the deans surveyed, 119 (83%) responded. Sixty-seven deans (56%) reported having received poison pen letters during their tenure. Of those, 16 (24%) reported that they had discarded the letters based solely on the anonymity of the authors. The remaining 51 deans (76%) reported that they had either sequestered, investigated, or placed the letters into the faculty members' files, or that they had based their decisions to discard the letters on factors other than the authors' anonymity. Only one dean reported having a written policy for handling such correspondence. CONCLUSION: This survey of AAMC schools indicates that poison pen letters are not uncommon. The authors recommend a policy by which anonymous letters that disparage current or prospective faculty members would be categorically discarded.

(C) 1998 Association of American Medical Colleges

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