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Inclusion of Students’ Marital and Parental Status in the MSPE

Brown, Nedd EdD; Nettleman, Mary MD, MS, MACP

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002931
Letters to the Editor

Associate dean for graduate medical education, University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, Sioux Falls, South Dakota;

Dean and vice president for health affairs, University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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To the Editor:

The Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE) letter is an important component of the residency application process and should be an objective summary of the medical student’s professional experiences, attributes, and academic performance. Unrelated information should be excluded, especially if it could be used to discriminate against certain groups. An example would be the student’s marital or parental status. Using these attributes to evaluate a job applicant is potentially illegal and should not be encouraged. Yet, we have noticed that many medical schools specifically include marital or parental status in the important Noteworthy Characteristics section of the MSPE. Our review of applications received by the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine for the 2018 Match showed inclusion of marital or parental status in the Noteworthy Characteristics section of MSPEs received from 21% of U.S. medical schools, and this information was included for both male and female students. Such information ranged from a simple mention to detailed descriptions of a student’s child’s favorite activities.

The Noteworthy Characteristics section is supposed to be a short, bulleted list of experiences and attributes that are important to the role of a resident.1 It is difficult to understand why a medical school would decide that being married or having children was a salient attribute to include in what is essentially a job application. Possibly, schools have been misled by the term “Noteworthy Characteristics” and assume that having a family is a noteworthy aspect of a person’s life and thus merits inclusion, despite its irrelevance to an applicant’s professional accomplishments. Other institutions might feel that mentioning marital or parental status might demonstrate the student’s skill in integrating multiple aspects of the human experience.

Regardless, medical schools should stop referencing marital status and parental status in the MSPE. The MSPE is a critical part of the residency employment application, and its contents should be limited to the student’s professional qualifications.

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1. Association of American Medical Colleges. Recommendations for revising the Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE). Published 2017. Accessed July 24, 2019.
Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges