A follow-up study of the characteristics of dean's letters

Acad Med. 2001 Jul;76(7):727-33. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200107000-00018.


Purpose: To assess the content and quality of dean's letters since the publication of guidelines recommended by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in 1989.

Method: In 1998, the dean's letter writers at all 124 U.S. medical schools were surveyed. The questionnaire incorporated items from two previous surveys (1981 and 1992). In addition, samples of dean's letters (n = 451) from all U.S. medical schools for the graduating class of 1998 were rated based on the AAMC's guidelines.

Results: The response rate of the 1998 survey (66%) was lower than those of the two previous surveys (87% for 1992 and 85% for 1981). Schools that prepared letters that followed the AAMC's guidelines were somewhat more likely to have responded. According to the letter writers in 1998, close to 300,000 letters (approximately 1,050,000 pages total) were sent to residency directors, at an estimated cost of $26,000 per school. A total of 65% of schools produced adequate dean's letters based on the 1989 AAMC's guidelines, compared with 55% in 1992. Many schools were organizing the dean's letter in more readable formats, and more schools provided information that allowed for a comparison of students within the same school.

Conclusion: The improvements in dean's letters are encouraging, but ten years after the AAMC's guidelines, 35% of U.S. schools still produce unacceptable letters. With the addition of the electronic submission of information, it is time to review further improvements to the dean's letter.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers*
  • Correspondence as Topic*
  • Educational Status
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires