Publications and organizations ranking medical schools rely heavily on schools’ research-oriented and grant-success data because those are the publicly available data. To address the vacuum of evidence for medical education quality, in 2012 the Association of Education in Europe (AMEE) introduced an initiative entitled A Schools Programme for International Recognition of Excellence in Education (ASPIRE) awards. ASPIRE panels of international experts in specific areas of medical education have developed internationally peer-based criteria to benchmark excellence in social accountability, student engagement, student assessment, faculty development, and simulation; they plan to publish criteria on curriculum design and development in 2018. Schools are encouraged to use ASPIRE criteria to challenge themselves and, for a fee, may submit evidence that they have met the criteria for excellence in one or more of the five areas. The international panels then judge the evidence submitted by the school and determine whether an award of excellence is merited.
The authors share lessons learned from five years of program experience. Of the 88 schools submitting evidence, 38 have been recognized for their excellence in one of the ASPIRE topic areas. As the number of representatives from the schools that are awarded ASPIRE recognition continues to increase and those individuals find new ways to contribute, hopes are high for this program. Challenges remain in how to better define excellence in low-resources settings, what new areas to take on, and how to keep infrastructure costs down. However, as an example of continuing global interaction for quality improvement, optimism prevails.