The State of Medical Student Performance Evaluations: Improved Transparency or Continued Obfuscation?


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Abstract

PurposeThe medical student performance evaluation (MSPE), a letter summarizing academic performance, is included in each medical student’s residency application. The extent to which medical schools follow Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommendations for comparative and transparent data is not known. This study’s purpose was to describe the content, interpretability, and transparency of MSPEs.MethodThis cross-sectional study examined one randomly selected MSPE from every Liaison Committee on Medical Education–accredited U.S. medical school from which at least one student applied to the Stanford University internal medical residency program during the 2013–2014 application cycle. The authors described the number, distribution, and range of key words and clerkship grades used in the MSPEs and the proportions of schools with missing or incomplete data.ResultsThe sample included MSPEs from 117 (89%) of 131 medical schools. Sixty schools (51%) provided complete information about clerkship grade and key word distributions. Ninety-six (82%) provided comparative data for clerkship grades, and 71 (61%) provided complete key word data. Key words describing overall performance were extremely heterogeneous, with a total of 72 used and great variation in the assignment of the top designation (median: 24% of students; range: 1%–60%). There was also great variation in the proportion of students awarded the top internal medicine clerkship grade (median: 29%; range: 2%–90%).ConclusionsThe MSPE is a critical component of residency applications, yet data contained within MSPEs are incomplete and variable. Approximately half of U.S. medical schools do not follow AAMC guidelines for MSPEs.

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