Objectives: The standardized letter of evaluation (SLOE) was created in 1997 to provide residency program directors (PDs) with a summative evaluation that incorporates normative grading (i.e., comparisons to peers applying to emergency medicine [EM] training). Although the standard letter of recommendation (SLOR) has become increasingly popular and important in decision-making, it has not been studied in the past 12 years. To assess the SLOR's effectiveness and limitations, the perspective of EM PDs was surveyed in this study.
Methods: After validation of the questionnaire by 10 retired PDs, the survey was sent to the PD of each of the 159 EM residencies that existed at that time. The survey was circulated via the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors' (CORD) listserv from January 24, 2013, to February 13, 2013. Weekly e-mail reminders to all PDs served to increase participation.
Results: A total of 150 of 159 PDs (94.3%) completed the questionnaire. Nearly all respondents (149 of 150; 99.3%) agreed that the SLOR is an important evaluative tool and should continue to be used. In the application process, 91 of 150 (60.7%) programs require one or more SLORs, and an additional 55 (36.7%) recommend but do not require a SLOR to be considered for interview. When asked to identify the top three factors in deciding who should be interviewed, the SLOR was ranked first (139 of 150; 92.7%), with EM rotation grades ranked second (73 of 150; 48.7%). The factors that were most often identified as the top three that diminish the value of the SLOR in order were 1) "inflated evaluations" (121 of 146; 82.9%), 2) "inconsistency between comments and grades" (106 of 146; 72.6%), and 3) "inadequate perspective on candidate attributes in the written comments" and "inexperienced authors" (60 of 146; 41.1% each).
Conclusions: The SLOR appears to be the most important tool in the EM PD's armamentarium for determining which candidates should be interviewed for residency training. Although valuable, the SLOR's potential utility is hampered by a number of factors, the most important of which is inflated evaluations. Focused changes in the SLOR template should be mindful that it appears, in general, to be successful in its intended purpose.
© 2014 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.