Use of Standard Guidelines for Department of Medicine Summary Letters

Matthew Fitz*, Jeffrey La Rochelle, Valerie Lang, Deborah DeWaay, William Adams, Farah Nasraty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Phenomenon: Fourth-year medical students obtain Department of Medicine (DOM) letters (“Chair” letters) to support their residency applications. Writing and interpreting DOM letters are challenging. There is heterogeneity in the letters that makes it difficult to both write and read these letters. Approach: The purpose of this study is to determine the value of new guidelines developed by a task force of clerkship directors and program directors in internal medicine and assess the implementation of these guidelines. The Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine performed a cross-sectional survey of internal medicine clerkship directors at U.S. and Canadian medical schools in 2014. In addition, the primary author's institution reviewed 1,347 DOM letters between 2012 and 2014 to assess the implementation of these guidelines. Findings: The survey response rate was 78%. DOM letter writers reported the guidelines were better, easier to implement, and more compatible with the purpose of DOM letters than previously. Most letter readers reported that letters using the guidelines were more credible. Writers of DOM letters in lower academic ranks rated the letters with guidelines higher in several domains than those in higher academic ranks. Readers of DOM letters in higher academic ranks rated the letters with guidelines higher in several domains than those in lower academic ranks. In the DOM letters examined, the odds of meeting each guideline increased with each additional year. However, for 3 guidelines there was an initial decline in adherence from 2012 to 2013 before increasing again in 2014—the recommended length, clerkship description, and detailed narrative guidelines. Letters solely written by a chair were less likely to incorporate the guidelines. Insights: Clerkship directors often write the DOM letters and identify with the purpose of the guidelines. As writers, lower ranking academic faculty value the guidelines more than higher ranking academic faculty. As readers of DOM letters, higher academic ranking faculty value letters that incorporate the guidelines more than lower academic ranking faculty. DOM letters implemented more guideline criteria since the guidelines were released. If implementing the guidelines, chairs should solicit the help of their clerkship director or educational representative when writing DOM letters. Although many clerkship directors read letters for their residency programs, additional program directors' opinions are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-265
Number of pages11
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • internal medicine
  • letters of recommendation
  • medical education
  • residency application


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