To the Editor:
In the November 2011 Point–Counterpoint column,1,2 the authors disagree on which medical school faculty member should prepare the dean’s letter. That discussion misses an important point. For the last 10 years, when the dean’s letter was released on November 1, most residencies had already arranged for many applicant interviews without it. In part, this may be because, for various reasons, residency directors frequently see the dean’s letter as not providing useful, unbiased data. In 2012, it will be released earlier.
If the dean’s letter is to become a meaningful source of information regarding medical school graduates, major changes need to be immediately made in its preparation to ensure its credibility. For example, to make deans’ letters more useful, they should all follow a standard form in much the same way that transcripts of grades do. Next, letters should have a place to describe any interruptions in the progression of the student’s education, giving the length of the interruption and reasons for it. An additional, specific site should exist to document extracurricular activities and research. Finally, for each clerkship residency, training directors want to know who completed the student evaluations and who compiled them in the report to the dean. These reforms and others would add substance to a letter that should be the initial basis for evaluating residency applicants.
However, if reforms are not made and the 2012 and later versions are perceived as comparable to those of earlier years, then I am afraid the dean’s letter may be seen only as a make-work program for deans of students.
Sidney Weissman, MD
Professor of clinical psychiatry, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Schroth WS, Barrier PA, Garrity M, Kavan MG. Student affairs officers should oversee preparation of the medical student performance evaluation. Acad Med. 2011;86:1336
2. Hunt D. Student affairs officers should not oversee preparation of the medical student performance evaluation. Acad Med. 2011;86:1337